Times Square sign to count gun deaths

December 30, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

NEW YORK -- According to the old show tune, there's a broken heart for every light on Broadway.

Shortly after midnight tomorrow, 1,500 new lights will appear there, reflecting not just broken hearts but lives cut short.

The new year will see the initiation of the Gun Fighters Deathclock, a three-story, red-white-and-blue, neon-edged billboard high above 47th Street in Times Square. The digital clock will offer an up-to-the-second tally of the number of guns in circulation in the United States, and the people who die because of them.

Every 5 1/2 seconds a gun will be added to the total, and every 14.8 minutes another death will be tallied.

"It's an ugly story, but it's an important story to tell," said Robert Brennan, the New Jersey businessman behind the idea. "If you want a message to be seen anywhere in the world, Times Square is the place."

Richard Wright, a resident of Saco, Maine, who was in line to buy discount theater tickets when the clock was unveiled yesterday, was not sure what good the clock would do, but thought it was worth a try.

"It couldn't hurt," he said. "It's a reminder, like any other reminder."

It won't be a gentle reminder.

This clock will be one of the 40 "supersigns" that have made Times Square a glitzy festival of color and lights.

But now, in addition to the Coca-Cola sign, the immense orange Suntory Whiskey sign, the five-story photo of a model sticking his hand into the top of his Calvin Klein briefs, the national-debt clock and the clock calculating "how much America has saved by using MCI instead of AT&T," will be the grim tally of the Deathclock.

It will turn a little piece of the Great White Way into the Grim Reaper's countinghouse.

It will pour forth, in 2 1/2 -foot digitized readouts, the number of people killed by guns in domestic disputes, robberies, drug deals, hunting accidents and more. The numbers displayed on the clock will reflect statistics from reports by the FBI and other government agencies.

Also on the board is a toll-free number that encourages public participation in a fight against handguns. The number: 1-800-WHY-GUNS.

The number connects to the sponsor of the clock, the Dehere Foundation, headed by Mr. Brennan, who said he established the organization to reduce violence in American cities. Callers will get information on how they can help work for gun control.

The foundation is named after professional basketball player Terry Dehere, a friend of Mr. Brennan's and a foundation board member.

During yesterday's news conference, Mr. Brennan said the clock was an effort to mobilize anti-gun sentiment around the nation. He has plans to put similar clocks up in other cities, including Los Angeles, Miami and Washington and in Newark, N.J., where he grew up.

Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Brennan's brother was shot and killed by robbers, but yesterday Mr. Brennan was reluctant to talk about it. "We're not here to rewrite history from 25 years ago," he said.

As the clock was being unveiled, New Yorkers were in the midst of a startling gun-surrender program, which offered people $100 toy-store gift certificates in exchange for any guns they turned in to police. The program was started by Fernando Mateo, who owns a carpet business in Manhattan.

So far more than 500 guns have been surrendered, and the program has been expanded to offer sneakers for guns and mattresses for guns.

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