Firearms collected on first of 2 days


January 18, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Firearms were outnumbered by curiosity-seekers and media cameras yesterday at the start of a two-day "Turn in the Guns" campaign in Baltimore.

Just nine firearms -- eight handguns and a rifle -- were turned in, along with one knife at the McKim recreation center at 1120 E. Baltimore St. on the first day of the effort by religious and community groups to put a dent in the violence on city streets.

Organizers of the campaign insisted they were not disappointed by the low number of guns delivered and said they were hopeful more would be handed over today.

"Obviously, there are a lot more guns out there," said Neil Saunders of the Stony Run Friends Meeting, one of several groups supporting the effort. "This is just the start of getting the message out. We've got a long road to go, and we're committed to going down it."

The Rev. Douglas B. Sands Sr., pastor of West Baltimore's Martin Luther King Memorial United Methodist Church, added that the news media interest "should mean we'll have more of a response [today]."

Yesterday's events began with an ecumenical service attended by Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke also stopped by in a gesture of support shortly after the campaign officially opened at 9 a.m. to those who wanted to turn in their guns.

More than two hours later, an elderly woman walked into the center and handed over the first weapon -- a rifle carefully wrapped in two Hecht's shopping bags and a green plastic garbage bag.

"I just found it in my closet. I don't know who it belongs to. I just want to get rid of it," said the woman as she hurried out the door, declining to give her name.

The package was unwrapped with ceremonial flourish by William Banks of the Watkins Security Agency, a private firm hired to accept the guns. He popped a single bullet from the gun's chamber.

"We're on the road," said Mr. Banks, who identified the weapon as a slightly rusted .22 long rifle.

"One's a victory," said Mr. Saunders.

More than an hour passed before a second weapon was turned in -- a Colt .25-caliber pistol. The elderly man who brought in that handgun, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he could have sold it to a collector but worried that it could fall into the wrong hands.

In the time between the first turn-ins, three young men appeared outside the McKim center with a handmade sign offering to buy guns for $20.

"I think the guns should be made legal rather than destroyed," said one of the men, who identified himself as Nick Lesh, 27, of Dundalk. He said he was opposed to gun control and had applied to be a member of the National Rifle Association.

The men left after being informed by a city police officer that it was illegal to buy or sell guns on city streets.

The presence of the campaign at the McKim center was announced by a large banner outside, which attracted periodic passers-by. Most expressed some skepticism about the effect of the program.

"You expect people to turn in guns? Get real now. They carry them for protection," said Darryl Nichols, 29, a home improvement worker who lives in the neighborhood.

But more guns did arrive -- seven of them, including a fully loaded .32-caliber pistol delivered to the center late in the day. One man turned in three guns last night.

The citywide campaign was conceived last fall in response to escalating violence that resulted in a record number of homicides for 1992. It has been publicized from church pulpits and through rallies and public service announcements.

The dates of the turn-in were chosen to coincide with the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who made nonviolence a central tenet of his beliefs.

A private security force was hired to accept the guns to reinforce the idea that those who turned in weapons would not be asked for an explanation. But any firearms collected were to be turned over to the city police for disposal.

A 1974 campaign by the Baltimore Police Department offering a $50 bounty for firearms resulted in the surrender of more than 13,000 weapons in a three-month period.

Organizers of the current campaign said they decided against offering money for guns because they had no funds to do so, and that past experience of bounty programs here and elsewhere showed that criminals made money by exchanging virtually worthless weapons for cash.

Guns will be accepted today at the McKim center from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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