Mayor pledges more bullet sales scrutiny

Hardware store raided in police, health sting

July 13, 2002|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

A police raid on a West Baltimore hardware store initiated by the city's Health Department is evidence that the city will use every means possible to halt youth homicides, Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday. Investigators said the store was selling bullets to minors.

In an unprecedented move, the departments of Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris collaborated on a monthlong sting operation that targeted Green's Paint and Hardware on West Lafayette Avenue.

Police seized 30 boxes of ammunition after a 16-year-old, who was working with the departments, purchased bullets on three occasions. Beilenson ordered that the store be closed after the raid.

The store was allowed to re-open after it agreed to keep a detailed log with copies of ammunition sales receipts and photocopies of the buyers' age-verifying identification.

"We're going to do everything in our power to get in your way, to stop dealing ammunition to our city's youth," O'Malley said at a news conference yesterday.

Beilenson said he will continue to work with Norris to stem Baltimore's rising juvenile homicide rate, which he called a "major health issue."

Sixteen juveniles were killed in the first six months of this year, almost double the nine killed in the same period last year. (The statistics do not include child abuse.)

While it is rare for a health commissioner to participate in police actions, Beilenson said he saw the opportunity to have his department involved in the sting when the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that his regulatory and inspection powers under state law permitted him to take action in situations such as the one at the hardware store.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that violence, particularly juvenile violence, is a major health issue," said Beilenson, adding that homicides account for 63 percent of all deaths for city males between the ages of 15 and 24.

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