Money for Guns

July 15, 1992

The time has come for city officials to take immediate steps to reduce the number of guns in the city's streets. Since the beginning of the year, 18 children under the age of 15 have been wounded by gunfire and two have been killed. Gunfire has killed more than 150 adults. Despite numerous street marches and demonstrations against the killings, the carnage continues.

Eighteen years ago, the city police recovered more than 13,500 guns as part of Operation PASS -- People Against Senseless Shooting. The program, developed by the late Police Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau, offered people a $50 bounty for each gun they turned in and $100 for each confidential tip that resulted in the confiscation of a gun. While the program was criticized because many people were profiting by buying "Saturday Night Specials" for $25 and then turning them into the police for $50, police considered the confidential tip program very effective. During the four months of Operation PASS, police were recovering an average of one gun a day. These were the guns that people would never have turned in.

It is time to revive that part of the bounty program. Police want citizens to report illegal weapons. But they are hoping that people will call out of an altruistic drive to stop the slaughter. Certainly, there are some people who will report neighbors with illegal guns, but the numbers would increase exponentially if they were rewarded with $200 for each confiscated gun.

When Councilman Anthony Ambridge suggested restarting the gun bounty program last winter, Mayor Kurt Schmoke dismissed the idea because the city had no money. But Baltimore could easily use the thousands of dollars in forfeited cash and property recovered from drug dealers to finance the program. Besides, the price of recovering these guns is small compared with the lives saved.

A bounty program is not going to end the murder on our streets. Controlling guns is a federal issue that must be addressed nationwide. Yet the citizens of Baltimore cannot wait for Congress and the president to act. There are too many powerful automatic handguns in the hands of people who don't seem to care about the lives of innocent people. At this point, every confiscated weapon that is in the police property room is one less gun on the streets that can be used to maim or kill.

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