30,000 - and counting

October 12, 2007

While overseeing a manhunt for the killer of two armored car guards last week, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson took a moment to criticize the proliferation of gun crimes in America and the collective indifference to a problem that is uniquely ours: "Anytime you have in a country where there's 100,000 people shot or killed, and it's not even an issue in the presidential campaign, there's something wrong with that."

It was a timely and well-deserved knock not just at the presidential contenders but also at a gun culture that impedes law enforcement efforts to contain the problem.

Last week, the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a report on gun violence and threw its support behind a series of recommendations that have both national and local implications.

Maryland has one of the more restrictive handgun purchase laws in the country, but it has been unable to outlaw assault weapons - and that is one of the key recommendations of the police chiefs group. Gun control advocates worked tirelessly to defeat state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. of Prince George's County, the lead opponent of the assault weapons ban, but his replacement on a key legislative committee, Sen. James Brochin from Baltimore County, is now the problem. Mr. Brochin, who voted against an assault weapons ban this year, should be reminded that high-powered guns aren't the usual weapon of choice for target practice.

Another aspect of Maryland law that should be reviewed involves possession of a gun by anyone who has been convicted of domestic violence or is under a restraining order. Both state and federal law restrict such a person from having a gun, but that same person isn't forced to relinquish the weapon. The connection was tragically evident in the Sept. 14 shooting death of Jessica Jacobsen of Baltimore County, where 12 of 32 homicides this year have been attributed to domestic violence.

Ms. Jacobsen was shot and killed by her estranged husband, Jeffrey, outside their home in Timonium. The husband, who then killed himself, had been ordered by a judge to stay away from the couple's house.

The Jacobsen case also illustrates how lax gun laws in other states fuel the illegal gun market here. Police traced the gun used by Mr. Jacobsen to kill his wife to a store in South Carolina. The man who bought the gun told police he sold it to "a guy named Tom." The trail ended there because South Carolina doesn't regulate individual sales.

Gun violence claimed 30,000 lives last year, according to the police chiefs group. That should cause outrage - and a serious commitment to reducing the toll.

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