Once again, young guns shatter hope

Dan Rodricks

SOMETIMES, SOME days, you wish you could just reach right in and rewire the brains of fools - like the fat one who apparently drove up to Randallstown High School Friday afternoon and decided to open fire on a crowd of kids after a charity basketball game. What do you suppose was the gunman's story this time? Had he been dissed by someone in the crowd? Did someone owe him money? Or was he just upset about the Krispy Kreme plant closing?

Young fools.

They've got it in their heads that guns are cool and that guns are a way to resolve their problems. They've been killing or trying to kill their peers for years.

April 5, 2004: A 20-year-old Cherry Hill man wounded when a shot from a passing car struck him in the leg as he was walking in the 900 block of Bethune Road about 1:30 a.m.

Feb. 27, 2004: Two men hospitalized after drive-by assailants shot them in the back in the 1800 block of Thomas Ave., West Baltimore.

Oct. 31, 2003: Three teen-agers wounded in an apparent drive-by shooting in an incident in the 5400 block of Nelson Ave.

Here in the Land of Pleasant Living, you grow numb to it after a while, the numbness being nature's way of keeping you from becoming permanently depressed and hopelessly pessimistic.

The truth is, we've grown used to violence. In fact, we tolerate violence on levels we don't even understand.

A lot of people think Michael Moore is a raving lunatic for attempting - in his last documentary, Bowling for Columbine - to connect U.S. military might, our societal faith in the use of force and our obsession with guns to the massacre at Columbine High and other acts of domestic violence.

Maybe he's a crackpot. But I give Moore credit for at least presenting a view that national pride or myopia prevent us from contemplating seriously.

The more serious problem with Moore's last film was that it did not address the urban gunfire that has killed thousands of young men and sapped the life out of neighborhoods for three decades. The ultraliberal filmmaker ignored the toll gun violence has had on cities when that is a far more serious problem than the violence symbolized by Columbine.

But all of this violence draws from the same root - the almost serene acceptance of guns as an instrument for conflict resolution.

I know: You get sick of contemplating the causes of violence and possible solutions. You get tired of the sociologists and psychologists and even the criminologists.

And what you'd like to do is just reach in and rewire the at-risk young.

Or get Dr. Ben Carson to do it.

Of course, that's impossible.

And, of course, this column is by a semi-jaded guy who has covered the news in Baltimore for 28 years, who saw his first homicide victim in 1976 (in Baltimore County, ironically, not the city), and who has lived, with everyone else, through an epoch of violence that has affected not only the city but life throughout the region. (Suburban sprawl, congested highways and air pollution is directly related to gun violence in Baltimore.)

So it's a huge problem.

And you have to actually care about it to keep your bona fides as a citizen of this province.

You have to actually get angry and try to do something about it - and not just because it happened in Randallstown this time. But because it happens all the time. Because it wastes lives. Because it traumatizes children. Because it destroys families and, in the city, whole communities.

Because it ruins good things. Because one shot can negate a thousand positives.

Friday, the violence repeated so many times in Baltimore's bleakest neighborhoods erupted minutes after an act of hope in a solid, middle-class suburb.

That might sound grandiose - to call a charity basketball game an act of hope. But in this busy and selfish world, anything anyone does in the name of improving the lives of children is an act of hope.

For the last few years, Bobby Zirkin, a young state delegate, has been running around Maryland with his legislative basketball team, the Astrodons - named after the official state dinosaur - to keep fit, have a good time and raise money for various causes. Friday, for the sixth year in a row, Zirkin's team played a team of Randallstown faculty to raise money for scholarships for Randallstown kids.

An act of hope.

And minutes after the event, shots rang out. Four kids down. Pretty day in May destroyed by young fools with guns. Just like that.

When and how will this stuff ever stop?

Who knows? People have burned themselves out trying to come up with an answer. I include myself in those ranks.

All I can suggest - to the people of Randallstown, to all the good kids out there, the teachers and parents - and to all my fellow citizens in this place we call home: Keep performing acts of hope. If acts of hope outnumber acts of violence - if we stay ahead of the fools - sometime, some day, we might win.
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