Selling guns lets the 'arms race' escalate

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 17, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Somewhere out there is an 18-year-old kid who is suddenly all alone. The cops want to talk to him about that gun shop murder on Belair Road last week. The cops say there were eight people involved in the shooting and the subsequent theft of more than 40 weapons but, as of 9 o'clock yesterday morning, there were seven in custody.

So the 18-year-old is on his own. The last one arrested was James Carlton Blackwell Jr., 27 years old, nicknamed "Ida," who was picked up as he walked out of his home on West Baltimore Street yesterday. The police were there on a tip. When they brought him back to headquarters, homicide cops questioned Blackwell for a couple of hours, and then they charged him with murder.

What makes the Belair Road shooting remarkable is merely the setting. What the hell, we've had 208 people murdered in this city since Jan. 1. The details of individual homicides unfortunately begin to blur after a while.

We'll remember this one, though, because the murderers stormed the Northeast Gun Shop. There, in the 4900 block of Belair Road, they killed store owner Charles "Eddie" Scheuerman, 53, and wounded a customer, Michael Berman, 42, of Columbia.

Why a gun store? It's like Willie Sutton's old explanation. When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton is supposed to have said, "Because that's where they keep the money."

In gun stores, that's where they keep the guns. In America, few self-respecting criminals walk the streets any longer without their weapons. This is a country where great efforts are made by professional lobbyists to equate guns and patriotism, and there is considerable talk of the spirit of the Founding Fathers, but much of this is merely the baying of jackals.

In dismaying numbers, guns are used to kill human beings. A few years ago, the Maryland legislature summoned up every ounce of courage it had and defied the forces of evil, known in this case as the National Rifle Association, and passed a law making it tougher to buy a handgun.

It wasn't enough. It merely made the criminals turn to more expensive guns and more imaginative ways of getting them. Because gun store owners are required to check the criminal records of those seeking to purchase weapons, we now have career drug traffickers paying people with no criminal records to buy guns for them.

"The days of the Saturday night special and the .38 [caliber pistol] have been over for the past year-and-a-half," a federal agent told The Sun's S. M. Khalid recently. "The weapon of choice for the violent criminal and the drug dealer is the 9mm semiautomatic handgun."

Or worse. Among the weapons taken from the Northeast Gun Shop was an Uzi semiautomatic. Is it lost on anyone that the defenders of guns frequently talk of the rights of hunters and the rights of gun collectors? Is it lost on anyone that an Uzi is neither a weapon to be fired upon small animals, nor an antique to be displayed in a glass case? Is it lost on anyone that such a weapon is nevertheless sold at gun stores, and this is not considered a criminal act?

Everybody says Eddie Scheuerman was a terrific guy. I won't dispute that for a moment. But those were guns he was selling on Belair Road, not cotton candy. The law of averages says that, inevitably, some of the guns sold at the Northeast Gun Shop through the years were used to commit violent crimes, and all became part of the rising anxiety level in this community.

Naturally, though, this is not the marketing ploy used for selling weapons. We are told, endlessly and incorrectly, that to purchase a weapon is to protect our homes from potential intruders.

This is known as a lie. Most of the guns lay in a drawer or a closet somewhere, and you never hear about them unless some little kid gets one and unwittingly fires it, or somebody breaks into the house and steals the gun and puts it into criminal circulation.

Where are the weapons stolen from the Northeast Gun Shop? Some are still in circulation -- including, as this is written, the Uzi. Maybe that 18-year-old the cops are seeking knows something about it.

Among those he allegedly accompanied to Belair Road last week were three who later drove to Clendenin Street, where witnesses say they got out of a car and gave each other "high fives." This is a show of triumph such as ballplayers give upon the hitting of a home run. Even the gestures of play are now corrupted.

What happened to Eddie Scheuerman sends us a message: Not merely of the desperate means criminals will use to get weapons, but of a new level of today's terror. No one is safe any longer. If you're barricaded in a place with weapons all around you, and some bums off the street can still blow you away, then what chance has anybody got with a little gun in a bedside drawer?

The answer isn't upping the domestic arms race, it's eliminating it. The Northeast Gun Shop killing should send a message to legislators this winter. They defeated the gun lobby last time. But they've got to up the ante and do it again.

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