State worst in gun study

Md. has highest rate of youth handgun killings, report says

Accidents, suicide excluded

Some are surprised by ranking, given toughness of laws

November 29, 2001|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

A child is more likely to commit homicide with a handgun or be a victim of it in Maryland than in any other state, according to a study issued yesterday.

In its report, the nonprofit Violence Policy Center said Maryland leads the nation in the rate of children involved in handgun killings.

Louisiana and Illinois ranked second and third in rates of children killed in handgun violence and rates of children killing with guns.

FOR THE RECORD - An article on handgun violence in yesterday's Maryland section misspelled the name of Jamaal Moses, who directs Baltimore Rising, the city's youth mentoring program. The Sun regrets the error.

The Washington-based group, which advocates stronger gun laws, studied handgun killings from 1995 through 1999 among youths through age 17. The statistics include only homicides, not accidents or suicides.

Karen Brock, author of the study, "Kids in the Line of Fire," acknowledged surprise at Maryland's rankings, noting that the state has some of the toughest handgun laws in the nation. She said Maryland's laws have targeted handgun sales but apparently have not sufficiently reduced the number of handguns in the homes.

"In reality, it's the presence of handguns in the home that is really showing up here," she said. "If we have a lot of handguns in the homes, there is going to be more handgun homicide."

In Maryland, the rate of youths killed with handguns was 2.86 out of 100,000 averaged annually over the five-year study period. Louisiana's rate was 2.40, and Illinois' was 2.24.

Tenth-ranking Georgia had a rate less than half of Maryland's.

Also in Maryland, an average of 1.98 out of 100,000 youths committed homicide with a handgun, the study found. Louisiana's rate was 1.74, and Illinois' was 1.72.

Daniel Webster, co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he would have expected Maryland to rank high on both indexes, but not highest.

The state also struggles with teen-age pregnancy, child poverty and low-birth-weight babies, problems of "social distress" that tend to correspond with gun violence, he said.

"In that respect, you'd think Maryland would be higher than average, but you wouldn't think they'd top the list," Webster said. "I'm not really sure what to attribute it to."

Though the group did not analyze where in each state the homicides were occurring, Webster noted that Baltimore has consistently accounted for more than half of the handgun killings in Maryland.

Webster said closer analysis would probably also reveal that teen-agers 15 and older account for the majority of the killings and that most are tied to drug dealing, robberies and altercations.

Some of the study's major points:

In Maryland, the majority of youths killed in handgun violence (168 out of 182) were black.

About 20 percent of victims in Maryland were killed by family members, another 20 percent were killed by strangers, and more than half were killed by acquaintances.

Despite Maryland's top ranking, the number of victims fell substantially, from 47 in 1995 to 22 in 1998. The number increased to 26 in 1999. Similarly, the number of youths who killed with handguns declined steadily over the period, from 39 in 1995 to 12 in 1999.

Nationally, an average of two children a day were killed with handguns, and more children were killed with handguns than with all other weapons combined, the group found.

Nearly a third of the children killed in handgun violence across the nation were killed by other children.

Responding to the city's epidemic of handgun violence, Mayor Martin O'Malley started this year Baltimore Rising, a church-based mentoring program that tries to reach youths most likely to kill or be killed in the city's three most violent police districts.

About 170 youths have been matched with mentors from inner-city churches, and 150 others are being monitored by full-time youth workers hired by the city.

"Were making progress," said Jamal Moses, who leads Baltimore Rising. "We're getting children who previously were not in school back in school. We're working with parents around issues of substance abuse. We're getting youths jobs."

Chip Williams, who works with the community-based group Safe & Sound, said the state's ranking didn't surprise him.

"The statistics are actually well known to anybody in nonprofit family services," said Williams, director of community involvement. The group finds people convicted of gun offenses and tries to help them kick drugs, get jobs and obtain graduate equivalency diplomas.

One of the major problems, he said, is that teen-agers lack constructive things to do after school.

"Parents are either dysfunctional, not present or incarcerated, so adequate guidance is not something that the older youths can count on in their lives."

Sun staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.

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