Good news and bad from the crime front

Shooting gallery: Baltimore's crime rate is down but epidemic of gun violence still menacing.

October 20, 1999

NEW crime reports from federal and Maryland authorities report encouraging reductions in some crimes, but not in Baltimore's continuing frenzy of gunplay. The random nature of the shooting means everyone -- not just criminals and drug users -- is at risk.

As both candidates for mayor have said, crime drives residents and businesses from the city. David F. Tufaro, the Republican, and Councilman Martin O'Malley, the Democrat, disagree on how to combat the problem.

But they don't dispute the problem's critical importance and persistence.

How could they in the face of last weekend's horrifying news? Fifteen people were shot in seven unrelated incidents between Saturday night and early Sunday.

This outbreak of wanton violence illustrates again how prevalent guns are and how willing many people are to use them.

Even in the Wild West, one assumes, shootings were not so indiscriminate. Motorists were shot while driving. People were shot sitting in parked cars -- in one case by a shooter on a bicycle. Three people in a house were shot by someone outside.

To read of these events is to fear the city will not find an effective deterrent.

Yet remedies are at hand. They range from background checks, used to determine if prospective gun buyers have a criminal record or mental health history that should disqualify them, to mandatory sentencing guidelines for those convicted of crimes involving guns. But much more must be done to rid the city of gun violence.

Severe punishment for gun possession has worked well in Richmond, Va. A similar but less comprehensive program in Baltimore is working and should be expanded.

Overall, crime in the city fell about 10 percent last year, according to a report released earlier this week by the state police.

Baltimore's shockingly high homicide rate -- still one of America's highest -- has fallen about 20 percent this year. But only luck apparently prevented last week's carnage from shoving that rate back toward the stratosphere.

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