The bloody history of a single handgun

April 10, 1994|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Sun Staff Writer

Jeaneen Marine always carries with her a memento of her first encounter with a handgun.

It is a .40-caliber slug embedded a hair's breadth from her spine. Doctors say it would be too risky to remove it, though she never forgets for a minute that it is there.

"Constant pain," says Ms. Marine, 18. "Like an ache, in my back and my leg."

It has been there since one night in August 1992 when she was standing four doors up from her home on McCabe Avenue in North Baltimore, chatting with a neighbor. Shooting started a half-block away at the corner of Alhambra Avenue. Ms. Marine started to run for home.

She glanced back and saw the dark blue car with a gun sticking out the window, firing.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God, they're going to kill me," she recalls. She got as far as the next-door neighbor's yard before a bullet slammed into her back.

The gunman got away -- but police have the gun in custody. It sits in an envelope filled with hollow-point rounds in the evidence room at Baltimore police headquarters.

It is a Glock .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol, Model 22, Serial No. YD546US, with a 16-round capacity. Gray, plain, mostly plastic, it has a lightweight feel that belies its $600 price tag and a brand-new look that denies its bloody history.

That history includes the shooting of Lisa Ragin in a wild exchange of gunfire on Federal Street in May 1992. And the shooting of Terry Johnson and shattering of neighbors' windows in a dispute over a girlfriend on Valley Street in July. And the shooting of Tujuan Ford in a drug-related argument on Eager Street in September 1992.

As is the case in most nonfatal shootings in Baltimore, no one has been punished. But police ballistics experts have tied each of the four shootings to the same Glock handgun.

The Glock's story, as pieced together from police reports, court records and interviews, shows the anguish and random destruction that a single pistol can produce in a few months as it moves through the criminal underground, sold, lent or "rented" by one thug to another.

It illustrates the growing firepower of the street arsenal, and the resulting stray bullets that cut down innocent people who dare stand on their street or sit on their steps. The number of murders in Baltimore has risen steadily in recent years; the number of nonfatal shootings has climbed much faster. There were nearly four shootings a day in the city in 1991; nearly five a day in 1992; and nearly seven shootings each day last year.

To follow the four Glock shootings through the court system is to see how much more advanced is the hard science of ballistics than the human art of investigation and prosecution, especially in a system swamped with criminal cases.

Even the man charged with illegal possession of the Glock -- who a police officer says blurted out a confession when he was caught -- was found not guilty.

In this sad tale, gun enthusiasts will find plenty of evidence for their argument that gun violence results not from the proliferation of guns but from criminals going unpunished. In the four incidents, gunmen fired at least 64 rounds, including 35 from the Glock. Not a single person was held responsible.

But the cases also show how difficult it can be to convict someone who shoots on a darkened street, and why guns have %% become instruments of terror in many neighborhoods. Guns' ability to maim and kill at a distance makes them peculiarly corrosive of a community's sense of security. There are no drive-by knifings, no stray baseball bats.

"I lock up so many guys for handguns I can't keep them straight," says Officer Alan Savage, who has worked in the Eastern District for a decade and investigated one of the Glock shootings. "It's aim and pray and spray -- just point the gun and pull the trigger. They don't care who they hit."

On Feb. 5, in an extraordinary turn of fate, Jeaneen Marine was shot a second time, once again in somebody else's argument.

This time, a stray bullet at a downtown nightclub shattered her leg above the left ankle. It was the kind of shooting that police and the media in Baltimore treat as minor, against a backdrop of a murder a day.

But for Ms. Marine, the latest stray bullet has meant four operations, two weeks in the hospital, a metal screw to replace shattered bone and a bout of infection. It means that as she climbs the stairs on crutches to her second-story bedroom, she must put all her weight on her right foot, which exacerbates the pain from the first bullet, the one left by the Glock.

"I ask myself every day, why?" she asks. "Why do I have to go through this pain again?"

Trading up

The rise of the semiautomatic pistol over the past decade has been a boon for the gun industry, whose sales flagged in the early 1980s as the U.S. handgun market became saturated.

Marketing the semiautomatic's speed and big ammunition capacity, gun manufacturers persuaded revolver owners to trade much as a nation of blender owners were persuaded to buy bigger, more versatile food processors.

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