Toward a New Killing Record

December 01, 1992

The distressing news out of Baltimore is that the city is on the way to a new record in homicides. More than 300 people have been slain in shootings, stabbings and other forms of fatal mayhem so far this year. If this rate continues during the holiday season, the city's slaying total will exceed 330, surpassing a record set in 1972.

Baltimoreans kill one another for all kinds of reasons. A few Thanksgivings ago, a particularly heinous knifing occurred in a heated family dispute over who was to get the dark meat of the turkey.

In recent years, an increasing number of killings have involved a fatal combination: drugs and guns. Guns have become a badge of manhood, an instrument of leveling scores. Firearms are used to settle disputes, protect turf. Guns also are increasingly used in silly juvenile squabbles which in the past would have been fought with fists. "To have a gun is to have power," one gun-toter explained.

Reporter Scott Shane offered an intriguing peek into the urban arms race in his well researched and painstakingly detailed report this past Sunday. As a new, alternative culture of guns has taken over in inner-city neighborhoods, a strict ethical code has developed among the gun-toters. Those who break it experience the dreadful consequences.

"In this way, every shooting begets another, a revenge shooting. The police become bystanders, a mere nuisance, increasingly irrelevant in an atmosphere of lawlessness comparable to the wildest era on the western frontier or the peak of Prohibition-era gangland mayhem," Mr. Shane wrote.

This culture has multiplied the demand for guns. Those who cannot obtain a gun legally resort to all kinds of subterfuges and roundabout ways. For a fee, people with clean criminal records buy guns for juveniles, for example.

A thriving second-hand gun market caters to people who do not want to be subjected to the legally required waiting period or criminal record check. So insatiable is the demand for firearms that area gun shops are experiencing a spate of brazen burglaries. The latest occurred over the weekend at the Valley Gun Shop in Parkville, where thieves rammed a stolen vehicle into the store, taking eight semi-automatic rifles and 12 handguns. Meanwhile, rising homicide rates no longer are a city problem alone; the murder rate in Baltimore County has increased dramatically, too.

We are in a vicious cycle, which must be stopped. The more common guns become, the more violence they beget. This spiral will accelerate as long as assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns are easily available and the second-hand gun market is not regulated.

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