Fighting Crime in the City. . .

April 06, 1993

Judging from the minuscule number of firearms collected last weekend during a "no questions asked" turn-in-the-guns campaign by area community groups, disarming Baltimore City is going to be a lengthy process. The people who actually responded to the call were without exception law-abiding citizens, many of them elderly, who simply were tired of having the things around.

Neil J. Saunders, of the Stony Run Friends Meeting, one of the organizers of the gun collection campaign, denied the effort was a failure. "Every one counts," he said of the 16 weapons collected over the weekend. Still, given that a similar campaign in January netted nearly three times as many weapons, the fall-off suggests the voluntary approach may be nearing a limit of practicality.

That's a pity both because there is a direct correlation between the number of firearms in circulation and the number of firearms-related homicides, and because groups like the one that organized last weekend's campaign offer what is probably the best alternative to vastly more restrictive gun laws.

So far, the National Rifle Association has succeeded in blocking new registration and licensing laws. The relatively modest Brady bill, mandating a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases nationwide, has languished for nearly a decade. Yet as concern over rising crime intensifies, the day may come when public outrage forces lawmakers to adopt legislation on the model of England and Western Europe, where private ownership of firearms is strictly regulated.

There ought to be some reasonable middle ground between the relatively benign Brady bill and the total gun ban that is the NRA's nightmare. The government might, for example, sponsor its own gun amnesty program, "no questions asked," and even offer to pay a modest sum for each firearm surrendered. Such programs have enjoyed modest success where they have been tried, though they have never enjoyed the sustained funding or political support required for long-term success.

Groups like the Baltimore gun collection coalition deserve support. But it is becoming apparent that between the gun lobby's intransigence and the frightening escalation of gun crime in recent years, the reasonable middle ground on which compromise might be sought is eroding every day.

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