Saturday Mailbox


October 21, 2006

Back tougher laws to stop gun violence

Thank you for the recent editorial highlighting the tragic toll gun violence takes on our community ("Exile gun felons," Oct. 16).

As Baltimore's chief prosecutor for more than 10 years, I believe that a working partnership with the U.S. attorney's office is essential to aggressively prosecute gun crime. But it is important for citizens to know that most gun possession cases remain the responsibility of city prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors have specific criteria that must be met before they will accept a case.

Local prosecutors must address the remaining cases, and deal with the fact that many of these cases have problems that cannot be overcome, despite the vigorous efforts of the 17 talented prosecutors assigned to our firearms division.

For instance, of the 213 cases the editorial mentioned as "deferred," it is important to note that in 94 cases prosecutors could not locate the victim or an essential witness to the case, 42 cases lacked a sufficient legal nexus between the defendant and the crime to proceed, 36 cases were dismissed because the court found there had been an illegal search or seizure of evidence, and 15 cases were dismissed because the police officer failed to appear or an officer who was an essential witness in the case was under criminal investigation or indictment and therefore could not testify.

Despite these obstacles, our prosecutors work diligently with police to locate missing victims and witnesses needed to conduct viable prosecutions.

Many prosecutors have gone to Annapolis to help secure passage of witness intimidation reforms and improve state funding for violence prosecutions.

In addition, over the past several years, prosecutors have sought to reform the mandatory five-year no-parole sentence statute for felons found in possession of handguns the Assembly passed in 2000.

More reforms are needed, and I urge citizens and our leaders to support public safety initiatives that address needs for witness safety and protection, as well as better laws to prosecute gun violence and conspiracies involving known gang members.

Patricia C. Jessamy


The writer is Baltimore's state's attorney.

Banning guns makes schools easy target

The recent school shootings in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin, Missouri and elsewhere have one thing in common ("Guns R Us," Oct. 15).

At first, one might think that the link is that guns were used in each case. Yet in millions of other cases, guns are safely used, stored or carried without anyone being harmed or any laws broken.

In fact, what the incidents have in common are the laws prohibiting guns on school grounds.

Of course, this did not stop the perpetrators of these shooting sprees from bringing guns into schools.

But then, if those people are willing to break the law prohibiting murder, why would they obey the law prohibiting guns in schools?

What laws banning guns on school property do keep out of schools are guns in the hands of teachers, principals, security guards, janitors and parents who might otherwise be legally permitted to carry a handgun.

Armed citizens act as a silent deterrent to violent crime. But they cannot be present in our schools.

Schools become the target of mass killings because the killers can be assured that their victims will be completely unarmed and defenseless.

Of course, allowing armed citizens in schools is not a complete cure for the school shooting problem.

Other things must be done, such as teaching our children (and adults, too, for that matter) a sense of morality, responsibility, personal accountability and the value of human life.

Granted, such things are easier said than done. But in the meantime, we can stop sending our children to school in gun-free victim zones.

Peter Bagnell


Cars and hospitals aren't meant to kill

We're pretty sure we can identify the flaw in the logic of the writer of the letter "Overrating the risk guns cause to kids" (Oct. 14).

Swimming pools are designed to offer recreation and health benefits to people. When used properly, they do just that.

Hospitals are created to minister to and cure the sick. They are generally successful in this endeavor, and we need them.

Automobiles were invented to provide a versatile means of personal transportation. They do just that. Deadly crashes, while devastating, are rarely deliberate.

However, when used for their intended purpose, handguns terrorize, injure or kill. Period.

We understand and accept the risks of using swimming pools, hospitals and automobiles. We're mostly satisfied with safety regulations in place for these facilities. And we don't want to see such facilities limited or banned.

But we would be deathly afraid to confront an individual armed with a handgun, and we abhor the ready availability of these weapons.

We wish they had never been invented.

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