Shops feel vulnerable even with tight security 5th suspect arrested in fatal robbery

September 15, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson Arthur Hirsch of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Police arrested a fifth suspect yesterday in the fatal robbery-shooting of a Northeast Baltimore gun dealer -- an attack that investigators believe was carried out by as many as eight people.

Wednesday's shooting, which left Belair Road gun dealer Charles E. "Eddie" Scheuerman dead and a bystander wounded, probably was inevitable because the attackers arrived prepared to overwhelm any opposition, other area gun dealers said.

"It was apparent they intended to kill him and take what they wanted," said Pat Loughlin of the Valley Gun Shop on Harford Road.

Mr. Loughlin was among a half-dozen Baltimore-area gun shop owners who said in interviews that despite tight security, there's little they can do to protect themselves against determined criminals.

Gladys Jones, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, took the same view and said the circumstances of Wednesday's attack elevate street violence to new level.

"It appears these individuals had their minds made up. They came in shooting," she said. "This is very new. We're not accustomed to this."

The gun dealers -- most of whom knew Mr. Scheuerman -- said they use such devices as motion detectors, silent alarms to police and surveillance cameras to deter crime.

They also said employees are armed and that several are on duty when customers are in the stores.

Mr. Loughlin said his store's staff has regular shooting practice "almost like military and police, and we have overlapping fields of fire" in the store.

But all of the gun merchants agreed that none of these measures could have prevented the kind of assault that led to the death of the unarmed Mr. Scheuerman and the wounding of visiting Columbia electronics salesman Michael Berman, 42, who was released Friday from Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Police think that as many as four men waited outside while four others carried out the shootings, smashed open gun showcases and loaded a duffel bag with weapons.

Witnesses' descriptions of the getaway cars led to the arrests of the first four suspects, and the fifth -- Charles Roy Randolph, Jr., 22, of the 500 block of Robert Street -- was captured at a girlfriend's apartment on Manordene Road in Northeast Baltimore yesterday morning.

All have been charged with first-degree murder and other offenses related to the gun shop attack.

"There's nothing you can do about an attack like that," said Sam Walters, a retired city police officer who operates the Cop Shop, a police supply store in the 800 block of East Baltimore Street.

"If you're going into a yard and you know there's an attack dog, you take it out, either with Mace or kill it," he said. "They [robbers] know people in gun stores are armed, and I imagine their theory was to take him out first."

Potential thieves case gun shops constantly, probing for weak spots in the security, the dealers said. "The average customer who comes in doesn't look all around, but when 'they' come in, their eyeballs go 'click, click,' looking for the television or the motion detectors. You can always tell," Mr. Loughlin said.

Wilhelm Helfrich of Duffy's Gun Room in rural Butler, said he likes being far from downtown Baltimore but that even distance has not shielded him from crime.

This summer, Mr. Helfrich said, he and his employees held four Baltimore men at gunpoint after three of them created a distraction while the other went behind the counter and slipped a pistol into his pants.

The man was convicted of the attempted theft, Mr. Helfrich said, but "he's out on the street already."

Dealers grumble that the judicial system does not come down hard enough on firearms violators to provide much of a deterrent.

"I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that everyone they have picked up has a record," Mr. Loughlin said. "It's the revolving door of justice."

Gun dealers also are unimpressed by calls for stricter gun-control laws.

"This is directly tied to the drug trade. They need guns and they can't buy them legally, so they steal them," Mr. Loughlin said. "They can pass all the laws they want, but only law-abiding citizens obey the law; criminals get guns wherever they can."

"They don't buy guns. They'll do anything they can to steal

them," Mr. Helfrich said.

There is a nationwide market for the thousands of guns stolen every year, Agent Jones said. In the last year, 1,224 firearms have been stolen from shops in 56 burglaries and two armed robberies in Maryland and Virginia alone. Only 99 have been recovered, she said.

In Wednesday's robbery, the thieves fled with the contents of two wall cases. Thirteen guns have been recovered, but 32 are missing, Agent Jones said.

Although the drug dealers are the best customers for stolen guns, the weapons all too often end up in the hands of young men who use them as a "status symbol of their manhood," Agent Jones said.

She said the BATF thinks "the laws are there and are being enforced" but that the criminal justice system "is overworked and overloaded."

Citizens must assume some responsibility for combating criminals, she said. She praised the witnesses who gave police the tag number of a getaway car in the Scheuerman shooting so quickly that officers made arrests shortly after the crime.

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