Owners of guns must keep tighter control

WILEY A. HALL

December 01, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

Sunday, a gang of burglars smashed a stolen pickup truck through the plate glass windows of the Valley Gun Shop in Parkville and made off with nearly two dozen automatic weapons and handguns.

Police believe the stolen guns were quickly sold on the street to drug dealers.

Meanwhile, people throughout the metropolitan area scratched their heads in slack-jawed bewilderment at the sheer audacity of the act: "Gee, imagine that. Who'd have thunk the bad guys would go that far?"

Me, by golly. I'd have thunk it.

In fact, anyone but a great fool should have thunk it. You don't dangle honey in front of a bear. You don't wave raw meat around a hungry tiger. And you don't leave dangerous weapons around where the bad guys can get to them.

The bad guys -- described as four young men -- drove the pickup truck over the sidewalk curb, up two steps, and through a 3-foot brick foundation and 8-foot window. The thieves jumped out, squeezed through steel security bars welded to the window, and stripped from six to eight automatic rifles from a wall display. They then smashed a glass display case and grabbed 12 handguns and revolvers. They were long gone before police could reach the scene.

"We're going to put poles up outside every two feet," said the owner of the gun shop to a reporter Sunday afternoon. "After that, there won't be any way to get in, short of blowing the whole damn thing up."

Yeah, but as my country cousins might say, "You're just a bit late with that security stuff, Hoss; the mule's done escaped already."

Sunday's daring pre-dawn raid is just further proof that ours is a dimwitted society. Only a dimwitted society would sell dangerous weapons from anything less than a fortress.

Area police say there are untold thousands of firearms on our streets-- an underground ocean of guns. A great many of those guns were once in the hands of honest citizens who carelessly let the weapons slip through their fingers. Gun enthusiasts may be dead serious about their right to bear arms, but too many of them are far too casual about how they bear them.

For instance, a few years ago, this newspaper traced a gun used to shoot and kill a city police officer and found that the last registered owner lost the weapon after he had left it on the front seat of his unlocked truck while he went shopping.

My informal survey of area police reports suggests that there are at least a couple of burglaries a week in which weapons are reported stolen. Federal authorities report that incidents similar to Sunday's, where bandits ram a vehicle into a gun shop and loot the place, have become common up and down the East Coast. In fact, the Valley Gun Shop was hit in February, when thieves drove a stolen car through the front door and made off with 14 handguns. Last year, thieves shot and killed the owner of the Northeast Gun Shop in Gardenville, and made off with 50 weapons.

There are 370 registered gun merchants in Maryland. Each of those dealers has some degree of security to protect the merchandise. But rarely, if ever, are the guns locked so tight that a moderately determined thief can't get to them.

And many of those guns end up in the criminal underground -- often to be used against law-abiding citizens.

As I say, some owners obviously do not treat their weapons with the proper respect and care. Guns are too cheap. They are too easy to buy. Surveys indicate that there is a handgun in one out of five Maryland households and a rifle in one out of three. That is too many guns in too many households.

I suggest we raise the price of owning a gun by two to three hundred percent, through more taxes and insurance requirements. I suggest we hold the registered owner of a gun financially responsible for how that gun is used. I suggest we require owners to demonstrate minimal proficiency with their weapon yearly. I suggest we shackle gun owners with a towering bureaucracy that would enforce regulations with slavish devotion to the letter of the law.

It is a cruel thing to do, I agree. But if gun owners cannot control their guns -- and apparently many can't -- then a crackdown is our only choice.

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