I was a wee lad living on Schroeder Street in West Baltimore when I saw my first BB gun.
It sure did look like the real thing. And I learned it was much more than a toy and got a demonstration of the damage it could do when I saw my zany Uncle Robert shatter an empty soda bottle with one shot.
Those guns are still around, apparently in great abundance. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke wants them gone, the sooner the better. She proposed legislation this week that would make it illegal to sell the BB guns and air rifles in Baltimore or to give them away. Violators could be fined $500 or spend 90 days in jail.
Clarke said she proposed the bill for two reasons: the complaints from her constituents that young people are shooting the guns at other people and concerns from police who say the guns are being used in robberies.
"The police asked, `Is there anything we can do about BB guns?'" Clarke said Thursday. Clarke did what she's most renowned for: react swiftly and decisively to the concerns of her constituents. (Some writing students of mine at the Johns Hopkins University found this out the hard way after Clarke moved to put the kibosh on the frat parties they held that disturbed neighbors.)
This Clarke woman has the curious notion that she's in office to serve the people. (Wherever did she get such ideas?) Her heart's where Mary Pat Clarke's heart always is: precisely in the right place. But has she proposed a law that will get little enforcement? We already have one that is, at best, difficult to enforce.
I'm thinking specifically of the law banning dirt bikes, which seems to get little enforcement, at least in my neighborhood. As soon as the weather warms up, the dirt bike-riding idiots come out, zooming up the block at all hours of the night and the early hours of the morning.
"The dirt bikes make me crazy," Clarke said. "They have for years."
At least the two of us are kindred spirits on that point.
Cops are allowed to arrest dirt-bike riders, but they are prohibited from chasing them. Because the police can't go in hot pursuit of these inconsiderate fools, decent folks are awakened from their peaceful slumber.
(In a news conference with Mayor Sheila Dixon yesterday about the arrest of a 7-year-old dirt-bike rider -- which warrants an entire column on its own -- Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm confirmed the department's no-chase policy. But he assured citizens that Baltimore police have other means to nab the culprits.)
Now back to the matter of whether a ban on BB guns would be enforceable.
"I don't agree," Clarke said of my assessment that the BB gun legislation would be unenforceable. "I think we can enforce it and I think we need to." But Clarke does have one concern.
"I know I'm going to get caught in the bind of, `You can't control guns,'" she lamented.
Indeed she will. And control in the BB gun matter will be difficult. I went down a list of gun shops in the yellow pages and found two outside Baltimore that sell BB guns. In fact, most of the gun shops are outside city limits. There's a good reason for that.
In the counties, some people have the notion that the Second Amendment means what it says, that "the people" have the right to be armed. In Baltimore, where few gun shops exist, the prevailing attitude seems to be that the Second Amendment has been repealed.
But Clarke has a ready answer for us gun nuts. (We prefer to think of ourselves as "Second Amendment enthusiasts.") If BB guns are indeed guns in the normal sense of the word, then they should be treated as such.
"They're guns," Clarke said. "So license them."
Licensing is a good idea. As a law-abiding citizen, I'd gladly license any BB gun or handgun I owned. I'm not sure the stick-up boys robbing folks at BB gunpoint and the juveniles terrorizing neighborhoods with BB guns will adhere to the law so strictly.
So I broached an alternate plan. How about, I asked Clarke, Baltimore implement a program to buy BB guns from those who have them, as has been done with regular guns in the past?
"I'd like them gone, without anybody having to pay for them," Clarke said.
Again, the councilwoman and I are on the same page, at least regarding the word "gone."
I'd like the ones creating mischief with BB guns gone. That goes for the ones committing robberies, and the youngsters firing them at God knows who or what. But this is Baltimore, where we aren't supposed to utter such comments about the little dears.
Still, I wish Clarke luck in her quest. But I'm afraid our mores are against her. One definition of the phrase "exercise in futility" could be "the act of Americans trying to ban anything whatsoever."