Making Baltimore's mean streets just a little meaner

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

November 12, 2008|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Lots of things get shot in Baltimore.

The breeze. Action movies. Bad guys.

But waterfowl, not so much.

So what was a famous shotgun manufacturer doing on the wide-open asphalt of West Baltimore this past weekend?

Shooting something else: a commercial.

This portion of U.S. 40 is a submerged highway between the Social Security building and a commuter train lot that allows you to traverse the inner city without actually seeing it, and it's apparently the perfect place for Benelli USA to film an ad for ESPN and the Outdoor Channel.

It involved an exciting chase with a van and a motorcycle, a stuntman and gunfire so frequent that a city police dispatcher had to get on the radio Sunday and warn officers not to rush to the closed road.

Benelli, which has its headquarters in Accokeek, has a Web site full of camouflaged sportsmen aiming shotguns and rifles at wildlife. Hunting isn't allowed in the city, but a Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman says there are "a lot of hunters in Baltimore."

The city doesn't have the woods of Cumberland or the marshes of the Eastern Shore. Forget the fall foliage, the duck blinds, the tree stands. We have street corners and police sirens. People, not wild game.

"It's a different approach," said Benelli spokesman Stephen McKelvain. "It's not a scene that promotes violence. ... It's a James Bond kind of thing."

It's certainly a daring departure from Benelli's ads on its Web site. There, the company reminds buyers that "the turkey is the only game bird generally hunted from a static, sitting position," which is why you need its award-winning Super Black Eagle II with the trademark SteadyGrip, which "makes it easier to wait patiently for that savvy old Tom."

Has Benelli found a way to shoot turkeys from speeding motorcycles?

Hey, it's guns and Baltimore. Makes perfect sense. We've had Homicide and The Wire, and movies that include And Justice For All and Live Free or Die Hard (which also used U.S. 40 to film one of its chase scenes).

We do a good job of profiting from our misery.

I'm not trying to discourage Hollywood from coming to Baltimore. I mean, let's be real: Telling most producers not to film violence means telling them not to come at all. This city has been fortunate in attracting filmmakers, and I don't have a problem with helping them by closing roads and making them feel welcome. I don't even have a problem with their story lines. If we want the city to have a better image, then we need to clean it up, not close it off.

But at some point, we at least have to think about what we're signing up for. Benelli is not shooting a feature film or a documentary. It's shooting a commercial. It's using our city to sell its products. And its products are guns. It's immaterial whether guns kill people or people kill people. It's whether Baltimore wants to be the willing backdrop to promote a gun company.

Yes, Benelli primarily sells shotguns and rifles, not the weapons of choice for city drug dealers. But you can't say your guns are used only for sport and at the same time promote your company by using shoot-'em-ups on streets already stained with real blood.

Benelli's spokesman wouldn't tell me what product is being advertised, but anticipating my next question, he did quickly add: "It's not a handgun."

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