Citing injured youths, doctors, nurses back gun bill

November 16, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

The statistics are grim: 29 children treated for gunshot wounds so far this year at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. vTC By year's end, the staff predicts, 40 children hurt by guns will have been treated at the center, up from 19 last year.

Yesterday, a group of doctors and nurses came to the children's center to pledge support for a new gun control bill in the next session of the legislature.

"It's time we say, 'This is it,' " said Pat Papa, the center's pediatric trauma coordinator. "We're losing too many children."

The center is a few blocks from the East Baltimore corner where 10-year-old Tauris Johnson was killed in a drive-by shooting 10 days ago.

The number of young victims has jumped in the last three months. In July, Hopkins doctors predicted this year's toll would be 25. That number already has been surpassed.

The increase is largely the result of "an incredible proliferation of handguns," said Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, which is lobbying for gun control.

"We've got to say, 'The time has come, legislators. Let's do something about it, and let's do something now.' "

Dr. J. Alex Haller Jr., professor of pediatric surgery and emergency medicine, said the rise in young victims results largely from drugs. "There are more younger people involved in the gun trafficking, and the dealers are arming them," he said.

"For the first time, we've got more kids under 14 dying of handgun injuries than in motor vehicle accidents."

Last year, 20 Maryland children under the age of 14 died in motor vehicle accidents, Dr. Haller said. Guns killed 26.

One gunshot victim, 13-year-old Kelly Vaughn, appeared with the doctors and her father yesterday. She was sitting on the front steps of a home on her block on Boone Street, near Greenmount Avenue and 27th Street, after school Oct. 6 when a 16-year-old neighbor appeared, showing off his .38-caliber handgun.

The gun went off, hitting the girl in the thigh. Her father, Keith Vaughn, had to stop to wipe away tears as he recounted how he got a call at the office, then drove frantically to Hopkins.

"There were all these red lights, all these obstacles in my way," Mr. Vaughn said. "All I could think was, 'Did it hit her head? Did it hit her heart? Was she lying on the sidewalk?'

"The block she lives on is a neighborhood block, a dead-end street," Mr. Vaughn said. "I never thought this could happen."

The proposed gun control bill, which is expected to face strong opposition in the legislature, would require a Marylander to pass a safety test and acquire a license before buying a handgun or ammunition.

State residents would be limited to two handgun purchases a year and could own no more than 10 handguns overall unless they received special permission from the state police.

Nobody under the age of 21 would be permitted to own a handgun, and anyone who sold one to an unlicensed person would be liable for any damages caused by that weapon.

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