City launches handgun safety drive City officials, Hopkins doctors push effort to keep guns away from kids.

October 08, 1991|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

Josephine Rollette walked slowly to the podium. "It's very devastating," she said. "I really don't know what to do."

Four months ago, her 13-year-old granddaughter, Tezara Horsey, was accidentally shot and killed at a friend's East Baltimore house. Police said the boy who pulled the trigger told them he didn't know the .22-caliber revolver was loaded.

After Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday announced a campaign promoting handgun safety, the 63-year-old grandmother quietly thanked city officials and doctors at a news conference at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Rollette later told a reporter that she doubted the effectiveness of anything short of eliminating all handguns from the streets.

"I don't have any idea what can be done," said Rollette, holding a picture of Tezara, one of her 12 grandchildren. "I don't know that it'll work."

City officials joined Dr. J. Alex Haller Jr., director of pediatric surgery, and other Hopkins doctors to kick off the promotion of a 4-month-old Baltimore law aimed at keeping guns away from children.

Schmoke called violence against children "excruciating and plain unacceptable."

"It's time for all of us to take personal responsibility for making this a safer city for our children," the mayor said.

The city law, the first such measure in the state, requires gun owners to store weapons under lock and key or to place a locking device on the trigger. It requires that gun shop owners offer to sell or give firearm buyers a trigger lock or similar device to prevent the weapon from discharging accidentally.

Shop owners also are required to post signs saying, "It is unlawful to leave a loaded firearm, or an unloaded firearm in close proximity to ammunition, where a minor can obtain access to the firearm."

Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for one year. No one has been prosecuted under the new law, which was enacted last June.

The law was intended as a prevention measure, according to Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, the law's primary sponsor. "This is about prevention, not punishment," he said at the press conference. "Once a child has been injured or killed, there is no punishment greater than that."

Ambridge said trigger locks are relatively inexpensive -- about $8 each -- and can render a firearm inoperable.

"It doesn't cost much . . . compared to the agony that the families of victims face," he said.

For the second time in as many weeks, Hopkins doctors, who view escalating gun violence against children as a public health crisis, publicly voiced the need to protect the young. On Sept. 24, Hopkins doctors expressed "outrage" at a surge in gunfire that has sent 20 children to two city hospitals so far this year. And they made numerous legislative recommendations, including a state law requiring the safe storage of handguns.

Dr. Modena Wilson, director of general pediatrics, said that every day at least one child is accidentally killed with a firearm in the United States. Gun safety is the responsibility of adults, not children, she said.

"No amount of education to a child will guarantee that child's safety around guns."

The campaign announced yesterday is to include radio and television public service spots. The television announcement opens with a little girl in a red dress holding a handgun near her face. The scene is followed by a message from the mayor. Rollette later thought about the message.

"Hope it helps," she said. "The violence makes you feel afraid. It makes you feel helpless. What do you do?"

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