Fewer shootings, more deaths Homicide rate: More murders don't mean police or paramedics are doing a bad job.

November 22, 1996

COMPLETION OF A study to determine why more victims are dying of gunshot wounds in Baltimore even though fewer people are being shot is still weeks away. But it's possible that the answer can be found in a prediction made eight years ago when Maryland outlawed cheap small-caliber pistols known as "Saturday night specials."

Even supporters of the 1988 legislation were afraid that banning the sale of .22-caliber and .25-caliber guns would lead to the use of more powerful weapons. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says that may be the reason more shooting victims are dying now. In 1993, 274 of the 2,488 people in the city who were shot (11 percent) died. Through August of this year, 189 of the 1,066 people shot in Baltimore (17.7 percent) have died.

The mayor said the police, fire and health departments are studying every homicide by shooting that has occurred in the city this year and comparing them to homicides over the past 10 years. A report should be ready in about two weeks, but Mr. Schmoke said preliminary data do not suggest that paramedics are either late arriving or fail to speedily transport shooting victims to the hospital.

In 1994, Maryland added to its ban on "Saturday night specials" by prohibiting the sale or transfer of 18 types of military-style semiautomatic pistols that can carry 30 or more rounds of ammunition. But that important step placing this state among the vanguard in gun control did not affect dozens of other powerful guns that can be legally purchased and end up being used in the commission of a crime.

There have been more than 275 homicides in Baltimore so far this year, compared to 251 at this point in 1995. The city is expected to near its 1993 record of 353 homicides. But Mr. Schmoke says he's not convinced that he should ask for more stringent gun laws. He says the legislature should study whether other jurisdictions are seeing fewer people shot but more dying.

The situation is ironic in that it suggests the current police emphasis on weapons arrests works. The city is on pace to end the year with only 1,600 shootings, compared to 2,488 in 1993. That success is in part due to the seizure of more than 2,000 guns by city police this year. But more people are dying. Any number of shootings is too many. The police still have a lot more work to do.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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