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Have guns ruined Baltimore?

Have guns ruined Baltimore?
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Louis Balsamo won’t get any pushback from me for declaring Baltimore a “ruined” city in his latest column for the Baltimore Sun, but I disagree completely with his diagnosis of the problem.

Balsamo ignores decades of government corruption, declining population, rising levels of drug addiction and fatal overdoses, crumbling public schools rife with fraud that are failing to educate students, and a host of other issues plaguing the city in favor of the most simplistic finger-pointing imaginable: its all the fault of guns.

In terms of public safety, “ruined” is the word that most aptly describes the condition of this town. What else do you call a place where teenagers routinely carry guns and are brazen enough or deranged enough or desperate enough or just plain stupid enough to use them? Multiply the abject tragedy of that one horrible crime on White Avenue by hundreds each year, and you’ve just painted a picture of Charm City today. Perennially counted among the country’s most violent cities, Baltimore only seems to become more and more dangerous with each successive mayoral administration. Ruined, indeed. What the hell else can you call it?

I think “ruined” is a perfectly apt description. I just think it’s ridiculously naive to pin the blame on inanimate objects.

To all those firearms fanatics who think arming everyone is the key to public safety — you’re crazy. If I had reached for a gun when an armed assailant tried to steal my car just a few steps from where my neighbor’s near-carjacking happened, I would not be alive to write this today. That dude would have shot me dead before I shot him. Period. End of story.

If Louis Balsamo doesn’t want to carry a gun for self-defense then I don’t think he should. However, there are thousands of Baltimore residents who would love to be able to lawfully bear arms for their own personal protection, and I don’t think it should be a crime for them to do so. Unfortunately that is the case for the vast majority of Baltimore residents, thanks to Maryland’s “may issue” laws that prevent the average citizen from exercising their right to bear arms until they can first prove a “justifiable need” to do so.

As for Balsamo’s assertion that he would have been shot dead if he’d tried to defend himself against an armed car thief, maybe so. I don’t think any gun owner believes that simply having a firearm for protection guarantees that you’ll be forever safe from harm. But there are plenty of defensive gun uses out there featuring armed citizens who have successfully fended off an attack by carjackers, and I think people should be able to decide for themselves if they want to carry a firearm for self-defense.

I know the city tries. But officials continue to overlook the obvious. Yes, we have a big problem with systemic racism and poverty. Yes, we have a big problem with a lack of opportunity for many young people. Yes, we have a big problem with an entrenched culture of violence. But above everything, Baltimore has a big GUN problem. Until we call it that, and until we publicly and loudly announce that guns are no longer welcomed here, our decades-long shooting spree will persist. Baltimore has so far failed to understand this.

First things first. Either get rid of all the guns here or hike up the penalties for using them in crime to a level of real deterrence. And do it NOW.

How exactly is the city supposed to get rid of all the guns? Even in Baltimore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms hasn’t been completely eroded. It might be impossible for the average citizen to legally carry a firearm for personal protection, but they can still have a gun in their home.

What about increasing the sentences for using a gun to commit a violent crime? I don’t have an issue with that, but I doubt the Democrats in control of the state legislature in Annapolis are going to go along, especially since they’ve spent the last two years vociferously opposing any attempt to make violent offenders spend more time behind bars.

But Balsamo’s aside about ramping up penalties for those who use a gun in the commission of a violent crime is also evidence that while the columnist may be loathe to admit it, even he recognizes that it’s the person pulling the trigger, and not the gun itself, who’s responsible for every act of violence in the city.

To that end, I’d argue that reducing the number of plea bargains would be much more effective than simply ramping up the potential sentences for violent crimes. Take the case of Darnell Gerald Gaither, Jr., for instance. The 27-year old was recently sentenced to 14 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to dozens of robberies in the Baltimore area.

According to his guilty plea, from December 2018 to November 24, 2019, Gaither committed at least 35 commercial robberies throughout Maryland. Gaither robbed fast-food restaurants, general stores, cell phone stores, gaming stores, a gym, and chain pharmacies—and robbed a number of the stores more than once. In at least one robbery, Gaither brandished a firearm and in least five occasions, he robbed the stores while partially revealing a handgun. In all the other robberies, Gaither passed a note to an employee stating that he had a gun. The employees, fearing for their safety, often provided Gaither with cash from their registers, in amounts ranging from a couple hundred dollars to $1,900.

14 years is a pretty good chunk of time to spend behind bars, but it amounts to less than six months in prison for each robbery, or just a hair over two years of incarceration for each armed robbery. It’s also just over half of the 27-year sentence that Gaither was eligible to receive.

“Guns” aren’t the problem in Baltimore. Violent criminals who will never be held accountable for their crimes are a huge problem. An educational system that’s failing to educate students is a huge problem. Prosecutors, mayors, police officers, and other elected officials charged and convicted of graft and corruption are enormous problems for the city. The open-air drug markets and the dealers delivering death in $5 baggies is a huge problem. But the biggest problem when it comes to guns in Baltimore is the fact that criminals can get ahold of them much easier than law-abiding citizens can.

I honestly don’t know if Baltimore can be fixed, but I do know that the good folks who live in the city’s bad neighborhoods have every right to defend themselves with a firearm. Guns haven’t ruined Baltimore, but gun control has ruined the ability of the average citizen to fight back against the criminals empowered and emboldened by the city’s repeated failures of leadership.