Anti-gun campaign nets few weapons But sponsors are glad to collect any

April 05, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer Staff Writer Greg Tasker contributed to this story.

Several groups collected guns in Baltimore yesterday -- a precious few guns -- on the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

By the 9 p.m. deadline, only 16 guns had been brought to four church and community centers around the city -- all of them by people who seemed unlikely to ever use one, organizers acknowledged.

The count included five weapons turned in a day earlier by an unidentified Northwest Baltimore woman, before the collection drive was to begin.

Neil J. Saunders, of the Stony Run Friends Meeting, one of the groups organizing the gun-collection campaign, said the event was conducted yesterday to bring attention to Dr. King's legacy of using nonviolence to foster change.

"I can't think of a more appropriate way of following that legacy than to get people to turn in their weapons," Mr. Saunders said.

Mr. Saunders is a native of Britain, which has far fewer guns than the United States and far less gun violence.

"Normally, disputes in Britain are settled with fisticuffs, or a knife at the worst," he said, adding that gun-related violence here has spiraled out of control. "Somehow we've got to get the genie back into the bottle."

But bottle-stuffers proved few.

One of them was an elderly woman who entered the McKim Recreation Center carrying a black leather briefcase.

"Is this the place where you're supposed to turn in the guns?" asked the woman, who appeared to be in her late 60s. She opened the case and removed a gun from an enclosed plastic shopping bag.

"Well here's one," she said.

"Every one counts," Mr. Saunders replied.

William C. Dowelry, a Watkins Security Agency guard hired to receive the weapons, inspected the gun and quickly realized that it was a starter pistol. The woman, nonetheless, seemed relieved to have gotten rid of it.

"I don't know anything about it, and I don't want anything to do with it," said the woman, adding that the gun belonged to a son, who has Alzheimer's disease.

The starter pistol was one of only three guns turned in at McKim yesterday, added to the five received there on Saturday -- three rifles, a sawed-off shotgun and a German-made Luger handgun.

Five other weapons were turned in at a location next to St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore, and three at the Roosevelt Recreation Center in Hampden.

A two-day campaign in January took in 43 guns, but Mr. Saunders said he wasn't discouraged that fewer were collected this time.

"We would love to better the number we had last time," he said. "We're not into setting goals. I don't think that's the way to look at it. We just want to get weapons off the street."

The groups involved in the effort said they didn't expect to see the 9 mm semiautomatic weapons that have become increasingly common on Baltimore's streets. But they were hopeful some might be collected in the future if the campaign gains momentum.

In Hampden, John Raab inspected a gun that was turned in by an elderly woman. She had brought the weapon in a Vienna chocolate box and said, "That's been wrapped up for 70 years."

The gun was an old Walther semiautomatic. Mr. Raab, a volunteer and former Baltimore County police officer, said it was the equivalent of a .32-caliber weapon.

"What I expect to see here is what we've gotten -- elderly people who have guns and would freak if they had to use it for their own protection." he said. "The criminal element is not going to turn in guns."

No weapons were turned into the United Methodist Conference Center by late afternoon. But the Rev. Douglas B. Sands said he would continue to try to make city streets safer.

"I'm looking for one gun -- the gun that would get me from this time until the next time we have a turn-in," said Mr. Sands, pastor of Baltimore's Martin Luther King Memorial United Methodist Church.

He said too many people buy guns out of fear that the weapons are needed for protection.

"That's not going to remove the fear," Mr. Sands said. "You just know that you have a gun -- and you're still scared."

The Rev. Bernard Keeles, district supervisor of the United Methodist Church, said the mayor should launch a continuous drive to collect weapons by painting on police cars the message: "Turn in your guns. No questions asked."

In East Baltimore, Avon J. Bellamy complained that a police car cruising the area had deterred anyone who might have wanted to turn in a gun. No guns were brought in there until mid-afternoon.

Mr. Bellamy, director of People United to Save East Baltimore, said he hoped older people would turn in weapons found in their houses. "I don't know how realistic it is to expect drug dealers to turn in a gun. That will take an act of God."

The theme of nonviolence was preached from more traditional forums yesterday -- in the pulpit of the Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore, where the service was titled, "Remembering Martin: the Nonviolent Giant," and at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, where a requiem remembered city children killed by gunfire.

"We've really been affected by the violence," said the Rev. Elsa Mintz, the cathedral priest who offered prayers at the latter service. "This is a group of people that are easily forgotten. The choir wanted to sing a requiem and we chose to remember those children."

The church's 28-member choir sang music from the Requiem Mass of French Composer Gabriel Faure. They titled their program, "A Requiem for the Children Caught in the Crossfire."

"I came because I wanted to be a part of the service," said Queenester Anderson, 72, the Baltimore mother of six grown children. "There's so much killing. It hasn't hit any of my children or grandchildren. But who knows if the violence keeps going on like it is?"

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