Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Record Breaking Murder Rate in Baltimore City - Is Gun Control Working?

"This law will begin saving lives on October 1 (2013)."  - Vincent DeMarco, President, Marylanders against Gun Violence (July, 2013).

Well, a few months after one of the nation's strictest gun control laws went into effect, Baltimore's Mayor, Police Commissioner, and other dignitaries are on a full press junket - now stretching into two months - to explain away the lack of law and order in Maryland's largest city.    While the City's worst annual murder total stands at 355 (0.70 murders per day), 2014's beginning offered up 0.78 murders per day, on track to hit nearly 400 total murders this year, despite record-setting cold months that kept most Baltimoreans indoors and presumably out of harm's way.  Historically, few murders occur in the coldest months, with high murder rates most associated with high summer heat and a lack of air conditioning forcing large numbers of people out into the community until the early, cooling, hours of morning.  Mathematically, this means the carnage could escalate not just arithmetically but nonlinearly.

As Mayor Rawlings-Blake told the Baltimore Brew, "We have a strategy that we know works."  Here's the thing.  No you don't.  Over 50% of adults in the city do not work (yes, some of those are retired). Over 50% of city children never receive their GED or high school diploma, and nearly 40% don't even make it to 9th grade.  Over 70% of violent felons get convicted again - in the City.  Over 75% of murder victims are convicted felons who previously served jail time. Baltimore is ranked between the #1 and #6 most dangerous city in America every year, and is currently ranked the #12 most dangerous city in the world.   I apologize, Madame Mayor, but you "have a strategy that (you) know works?"  What? How? When?   Quite seriously, the failing communities, systems, and infrastructure in this City are clear indicators that most things aren't working.

The Mayor, who some will recall made grandiose comments in 2013 about how City neighborhoods are under siege from criminals, yet also noted that the obvious way (to her) to correct that problem would be to limit legal citizens' access to guns to protect themselves from criminals.   Her exact words were that the Firearms Safety Act of 2013 "deserves our full support."  The Act makes it prohibitively difficult and expensive for a large number of Marylanders to legally purchase and own a handgun, and also banned some assault rifles (responsible for less than 2% of the City's crime).

So, with 2014 only 90-some days old and nearly 50 Baltimoreans buried in the ground, having been murdered by firearms that were promised to be swept of the streets by Governor O'Malley's Gun Safety bill, perhaps we should pass another law, you know, "close the loopholes."  Let's look at the existing firearms laws in Baltimore and see - critically - the impact they are having on crime.

1.  In Baltimore, it is illegal to discharge any firearm at any time for any reason other than police business.
2.  In Baltimore, it is nearly impossible to obtain a concealed weapons permit (approval rate <1 nbsp="" p="" percent="">3.  In Baltimore, it is a crime to carry a concealed knife.
4.  In Baltimore, it is a crime to "open carry" a handgun (firearms violation)
5.  In Baltimore , it is a crime to display a BB or pellet gun anywhere in public
6.  In Baltimore, it is a crime to "open carry" a rifle or shotgun (disturbing the peace / intimidating the public)
7.  In Maryland, it is impossible to legally purchase an assault weapon (as defined by the state)
8.  In Maryland, it is impossible to legally purchase a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds
9.  In Maryland, it is a crime to shoot anyone (even an intruder in your home) in the back
10.  In Maryland, it is a crime to shoot anyone (for any reason) outside your home
11.  In Maryland and Baltimore, murder is illegal.
12.  In Maryland and Baltimore, maiming via firearm is illegal.
13.  In Maryland, it is a crime to discharge a weapon from a moving vehicle.
14.  In Maryland, it is impossible to legally purchase a handgun without passing 5 background checks, state police fingerprinting, handgun safety training completion, and obtaining a Handgun Qualification License.

I think it's fair to say we have plenty of gun laws.  So why are there still murders at all?  With all the new brand new laws, why are firearms murders happening at an even greater rate than has ever before occurred?

 I know that you gun control supporters are reading this, waiting for me to make a specious argument like, "Gun control causes crime - see?!"   But, I would never say that, because obviously there's no relationship between these laws and whether citizens are being gunned down in the streets.   And that's precisely my point. There's no relationship between gun laws and the preponderance of murder in our Baltimore communities.  The suburban gun control Moms have gone back to their McMansions.  The lawmakers who proposed the absolute necessity of more gun control in 2013 (themselves holders of concealed carry permits) have gone away, having won a battle on the state stage that the Brady Campaign and the Bloomberg fund would be proud of (and send more money please!).  The clergy who insisted that finally this law would sweep onto the landscape and save the vulnerable youth from the impossible claws of the poverty-violence-addiction cycle...they've gone back to the pulpit to talk about something else.

If you own a home in a bad area of Baltimore, gun control proponents believe they've done you a favor by making it nearly impossible to legally defend yourself, your family, or your property.   Meanwhile, illegal guns are imported daily into Baltimore - not from "states with weak gun control", as gun control fanatics believe - but from the former Soviet republics.  From China.  From Africa.   They are poor quality weapons for sure.  But they are cheap and readily available, without all the hassles of background checks and waiting periods.

Be careful out there - it's a tough town, even though its people have a big heart.  But those fancy gun laws won't be there to help you when the bad guys show up.   While Baltimore has more police officers than any major city in the USA, I'm sorry, they won't get to you in time.  The ongoing murder sprees and the lengthy list of gun laws being broken hundreds of times per day in Baltimore demonstrate that much. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Loch Raven Winter Hike

Last day of winter, so says the calendar
We have at least one more blast of snow on the way, seems like it will never end.  But the periods inbetween the snowstorms are getting longer and warmer.  You can almost feel the souls of millions of people awaken and stretch in the Mid-Atlantic.  Tired of the coldest winter in 20 years.

I feel like things are coming alive again.  Birds are singing in the trees for the first time in almost six months.  The winter ducks haven't left, but the swans and geese have all flown north to Pennsylvania and beyond.   Spring is around the corner.

On a good snowmelt day, I decided to take Hank to our local watershed property for a hike.   I wondered if the reservoir was still was.

But the air temperature rose into the low 50s, giving Hank some spunk and giving me enough energy to keep up with him for a few hours outside...shenanigans good to be outside again.  We looked through holes in the ice for any signs of moving fish...absolutely none.  Won't be long though, and the boy begged me to bring him back to find them.

Hank's first antler shed...the squirrels had chewed it up quite a bit

Walking the plank

The boy is a fan of acorns and hickory nuts

Playing in a coldwater spring

Head in my lap, looking at the clouds 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Late Winter Ebb

The aluminum eyelets on my Danners ice up again, pulling the thick laces back and forth across them as I trudge through the half frozen floodplain. They splay, half wet half frozen.  Another day of snow followed by four days of snow melt followed by another day of snow followed by days of rain.  All this is just mighty fine if you don't work on construction projects in the water.

The snow melts, feeding the hillside springs, slipping down into our damaged springs. I chase a sediment plume in the construction zone furiously upstream, only to realize it was caused by a giant bullfrog shaking loose the silt from hibernation, arising to the surface to warm himself enough to slip back down into the silt and sleep for another month.

We try to will up the spring flowers but their rise has come too slowly, exposing fresh succulents buds to the hordes of hungry deer, rabbits, squirrels and groundhogs.  Gnarled yellow shreds in fields of daffodils, six weeks late, not yet ready to bloom. And won't be afforded the chance.

Whatever grievance I bring you is a soft one.  Life goes on and spring will come.  The soil will warm, then dry.  The winter ducks will fly north and away.  The fish will rise and I will find them.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Blank Space

This winter seems interminable - they say it's the coldest in 20 years.  Everyone in our family has caught the same cold twice in the last four weeks.  No perennials are peeking up through the scattered snow banks that have long overstayed their welcome.   Skunk cabbage and wild iris arose in the swamp a month ago, only to die back in the bitter cold.

I'm in need of warm, moist air and southern winds.  It seems I'm not the only one.  Friends do not speak of plants, spring wildlife, or new gardens.  Most people do not speak of much, it seems, except for comings and goings and pictures of kids playing indoor sports.  People in our relatively friendly city have become resigned to the unrelenting north wind in their face, blowing as it has been for six months. Everyone shuffles about quickly with their heads covered, faces down to the salt, ice, and grime on the sidewalks.

I want to feel the fire.  I want to move.  I want to create motion beyond myself.  That is what I am here to do.

Tonight, another snow storm comes.  I bristle and grab one more blanket, longing for the warm air so long overdue. On Monday morning, we go back to work under three layers of pants and four layers of tops.

Photo by Jennifer Carr