Gun buyback provides opportunity Symbolism important: City program allows people to show commitment to ending violence.

February 05, 1997

BY ITSELF, the city's gun buyback may have minimal impact on the level of violence in Baltimore. But since he announced the program in January, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has detailed other crime-fighting initiatives -- using State Police in "hot spots" and collecting bail bond fees for criminal justice improvements -- that have increased the buyback's value. It can be a useful tool in engendering greater cooperation between the public and the police.

More than 1,100 guns were turned in last Saturday, a one-day haul that matches one-quarter of all the guns seized by Baltimore police last year. That still leaves a lot of guns on the street, and few hardened criminals were among those collecting $100 for every weapon they turned in. But the volume of guns collected suggests the degree to which people who live in crime-ridden areas want to do something about it.

Some may have been motivated by the money; two people turned in 53 handguns. But many more wanted to take some action to help stop the violence. People who originally purchased handguns because they live in fear have decided they no longer want to be part of a vicious cycle -- violence breeding violence.

The city in one day ran out of the $100,000 it had budgeted to spend buying back guns in the month of February. But a surprising thing happened. People who want to see the program succeed are donating money to it.

David Calhoun, a teacher whose pregnant wife was robbed at gunpoint, has promised to spend $20,000 of their money to buy back guns. City officials say they hope to have up to $40,000 in cash donations when they resume the month-long program Saturday. Corporations and foundations have been asked to help.

It is important to keep the gun buyback in perspective. In addition to getting weapons off the street and out of homes, where they make domestic disputes fatal and accidents tragic, this program encourages cooperation between the police and the public. That cooperation is as essential to law enforcement as needed improvements in the criminal justice system.

Baltimore officials must do more to keep the felons who commit violent crimes locked up. And people must work with the police to make that possible.

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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