Re­duc­ing the fire­power, re­duc­ing the risks

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

Par­don me while I shift fo­cus for a mo­ment from “bump stocks” on as­sault ri­fles, like the one re­port­edly used in last Sun­day’s mass killing in Las Ve­gas, to some­thing just as likely to de­stroy the lives of mul­ti­ple hu­man be­ings at one time: the 50round mag­a­zine Bal­ti­more po­lice say they con­fis­cated from an al­leged gang­ster’s car in Au­gust.

The de­vice is black, shaped like a drum, de­signed to fit a 9 mm semi­au­to­matic hand­gun and al­low the shooter to fire up to 50 bul­lets. Glock is the brand name on this item, de­scribed as “tac­ti­cal” in ad­ver­tis­ing. The drums are man­u­fac­tured in South Korea. I found them for sale on­line at a range of prices, from $39.99 to $120.

Bal­ti­more po­lice say they picked one up for free from in­side a 2010 Nis­san Max­ima in Au­gust.

Shortly af­ter 11 p.m. on Thurs­day, Aug. 10, an of­fi­cer spot­ted the Nis­san speed­ing through West Bal­ti­more and tried to stop it at Bal­ti­more and Mount streets. Po­lice say the Nis­san sped off. A few blocks away, in the in­ter­sec­tion of West Pratt and South Mount streets, the car struck a 2015 Volk­swa­gen Jetta driven by 66-year-old Mar­garet Ann-Marie Hall, po­lice say. She died in­stantly.

Of­fi­cers ar­rested 25-year-old Ryan Hazel, the driver of the Nis­san, near the scene. In search­ing his car, they say, they found the hand­gun and the high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zine.

Kevin Davis, the Bal­ti­more po­lice com­mis­sioner, ap­peared at a press brief­ing the next day to talk about this case for two rea­sons.

The first was to note Hazel’s crim­i­nal record. Davis called him a “val­i­dated Bloods gang mem­ber” and re­peat of­fender who now faced ad­di­tional charges, but who should never have been on the street. For a gun crime in 2015, Davis noted, Hazel had re­ceived a three-year sen­tence; all but six months were sus­pended.

Both the Bal­ti­more state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice and the of­fice of the Mary­land pub­lic de­fender con­firmed that a pros­e­cu­tor had rec­om­mended that sen­tence as part of a plea deal. Asked why, a spokes­woman for the state’s at­tor­ney called the Hazel plea agree­ment “ab­nor­mal” and not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the of­fice’s “gen­eral pro­to­cols to fol­low sen­tenc­ing guide­lines for re­peat of­fend­ers.”

“The prob­lem has been ad­dressed in­ter­nally and we will con­tinue to stay vig­i­lant in the pur­suit of cre­at­ing a safer city,” spokes­woman Melba Saun­ders said.

At the press brief­ing, Davis also made a point of pre­sent­ing the con­fis­cated gun and drum, call­ing it a “weapon of death.”

He could eas­ily have called it a weapon of mass death.

Some­one de­ter­mined to use this hand­gun and mag­a­zine in an as­sault — and hand­guns are used in most firearm homi­cides in Bal­ti­more and through­out the coun­try — could kill or wound sev­eral vic­tims be­fore need­ing to reload.

Fifty rounds sounds like a lot, but mag­a­zines of even larger ca­pac­ity are avail­able. One of the weapons James Holmes used in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater mas­sacre in 2012 was an as­sault ri­fle with a 100-round drum mag­a­zine. Holmes man­aged to shoot 70 peo­ple, killing 12 of them.

When Daniel Web­ster, the firearms pol­icy ex­pert at the Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health, sug­gests ways for the na­tion to re­duce gun deaths, he points to high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines as an un­nec­es­sary risk to pub­lic safety.

“This ex­tra­or­di­nary fire­power en­ables gun­men to kill and wound more vic­tims than they oth­er­wise could if they used weapons that held fewer bul­lets, he wrote in an es­say af­ter the Aurora mas­sacre. “There is ob­vi­ously no need for any civil­ian to have such pow­er­ful weapons.”

But, of course, I found the 50-round drum on­line for as lit­tle as $39.99.

So while it’s in­ter­est­ing to hear oth­er­wise gun-drunk Repub­li­can politi­cians talk about re­strict­ing sales of the “bump stock” that made pos­si­ble the rapid fire of hun­dreds of bul­lets in Las Ve­gas, I’m look­ing at this drum mag­a­zine, al­legedly taken from an al­leged gang mem­ber in Bal­ti­more, and won­der­ing why it even ex­ists.

Gun en­thu­si­asts will say it makes tar­get prac­tice and gun-func­tion checks more con­ve­nient — you don’t have to reload your hand­gun af­ter 10 measly rounds — but pub­lic safety for all should come be­fore con­ve­nience to a rel­a­tively small num­ber of firearms fans.

The rest of the na­tion should fol­low Mary­land. In 2013, the Gen­eral Assem­bly banned mag­a­zines that hold more than 10 rounds. That won’t keep big­ger ones from show­ing up from time to time. It won’t pre­vent mass killings. But it will re­duce the car­nage.

MICHAEL ARES/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

A pis­tol ap­pre­hended by Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers from sus­pect Ryan Hazel, who was in­volved in a fa­tal car crash that took the life of Mar­garet Hall, 66. The pis­tol came with an ex­tended mag­a­zine that was shown to the press at the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Head­quar­ters.

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