Mother to walk in son's memory

Child's death spurs woman's work for march on gun violence

January 05, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carole Price, the mother of a 13-year-old shot by a younger neighbor with a handgun, heads a local committee for the Million Mom March to the U. S. Capitol on Mother's Day to express concern about gun violence and to urge Congress to pass legislation to protect children from guns.

Her son John Joseph Price was to enter ninth grade at Perry Hall High School when he died Aug. 20, 1998, after the shooting in the first block of Pine Cone Court near White Marsh in Baltimore County.

Price, 36, now lives in Carroll County, and is march chairwoman for Carroll and Baltimore counties.

"It's time we as mothers protect our children," she said.

"I just got involved in it because 18 months ago, my son John Joseph was accidentally shot by a 9-year-old boy who had access to a legal 9 mm handgun," Price said.

"After John died, it was a homicide on his death certificate -- and to me a homicide is a crime. So naturally I wanted somebody to be responsible. I wanted somebody to be charged," but not the 9-year-old boy, she said.

But the crime was a $1,000 misdemeanor deemed not worth prosecuting, she said.

"To me as a mother, the bottom line to me is, I let him go in that house. It wasn't like it was a stranger's house. I feel like it was my fault because I never thought to stop and ask anybody if their house was safe. I assumed it was because ours was," she said. "We didn't live in a neighborhood where these kinds of things happen. Things like this happen on the news, happen to other people. We didn't live in a high-crime area. Guns and the death of my child by handguns never entered my mind."

The march planned for May 14 was conceived by a part-time publicist and mother of two, Donna Dees-Thomases, after the shootings at a community center in Los Angeles in August, and as part of a wave of public reaction to shootings at Columbine High School and elsewhere.

A Web site by her West Caldwell, N. J., group says thousands of mothers and others who plan to carpool to Washington for "the right of children to live in safety" have responded. "I hope it goes well. It's such a strong statement," Price said.

Dees-Thomases plans to attend the organizing meeting for the Maryland-D. C. group, which is open to the public Saturday at Unitarian Church of Bethesda, 6301 River Road.

State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. plans to attend the meeting and the march, aides said. Curran recently called for a ban on most private ownership of handguns.

"I am hopeful that the support generated by the march will serve as a strong message of advocacy of future legislation to control the gun-violence problem," he said.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other state officials also have said they will attend the meeting, Price said.

Carole's husband, John A. Price, 38, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. gas technician in Baltimore, told her about the march after seeing an announcement on the Internet.

The Prices moved with their two surviving children, Michael, 9, and Carly, 8, to a home north of Manchester almost a year ago.

He said, "We had to get away. When this happened, it was so close to our house. The children had to pass it every day. My wife, it was already eating her up inside, and she just couldn't stand it.

"It's the best thing we ever did," he said of the move, and spoke proudly of his wife's efforts in Annapolis for state handgun legislation after their son's death.

Price said she will work again in Annapolis this legislative session for passage of gun-safety laws, which failed in committee last year.

Carroll County Del. Carmen Amedori expressed sympathy for the Prices' loss, but said, "We have so many laws restricting firearms ownership now that half of us don't even know what the laws are.

"You can't outlaw some thing because somebody gets hurt with it," she said. "If that were the case, we would outlaw ropes, swings on the playground and vehicles. Child safety seats are still the No. 1 killer in the state [when] not used properly."

She said the law requires that guns be locked up and ammunition kept separately. Safety locks -- which a child could easily open -- might lead people to leave loaded weapons out with a false sense of security, she said.

"I don't think anything should be mandated, and I think that's going to be one of the best battles we're going to have this session," Amedori said. "It's going to be hot. I hope people do research the laws."

Amedori and Mrs. Price tangled recently on the issue on a local television talk show, they said. Carroll County Republicans also made national news with their recent fund-raising plan to raffle a handgun.

Price said she hopes to find support.

"The march is asking Congress to make some small changes in gun legislation: longer cooling off periods and background checks; that all handguns be licensed and all owners registered; that safety locks be mandatory on all handguns; and for no-access [laws] enforcement.

"It's a nice, quiet area," she said of her new home. "But it's a tough area to try to get people involved in this kind of legislation."

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