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Advocates remember victims on anniversary of Sandy Hook tragedy

On the anniversary of the Newtown schoolhouse massacre, dozens of people stood in a Baltimore church Saturday and solemnly shook bells, an audible symbol of their enduring concern about gun violence in America.

A year ago, 20 children and six adults were shot and killed inside a Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut by Adam Lanza, who then took his own life.

The tragedy shocked the country and spurred national debate on whether to strengthen gun control laws and mental health services. While many states loosed gun laws, Maryland tightened its gun restrictions.

On Saturday, gun control advocates gathered at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation on University Parkway to commemorate the lives lost and to express their displeasure that other states and the federal government have not passed tougher gun laws. The gathering came as Baltimore reels from a spate of gun violence that has fueled this year's rising homicide rate.

Politicians including state Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke at the event, sponsored by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Similar remembrance events were held in other cities around the country, and the one in Baltimore drew about 70 people.

Rawlings-Blake said Saturday that "there's absolutely no reason with all the resources we have in this country that this type of violence should continue."

Some Maryland gun-rights activists have argued that the state's tougher laws only affected law-abiding gun owners. One said Saturday that people who dislike firearms used the Sandy Hook killing as a political opportunity.

The energy would have been better used to strengthen mental health services for people like Lanza, who police said had mental issues, said Del. Kevin Kelly, a Democrat from Western Maryland.

"He had terrible psychological problems," Kelly said. "We all grieve for those children; we think it was terrible."

Starting in October, Marylanders trying to buy guns were subject to new fingerprinting and training requirements. The state also banned dozens of types of assault rifles and magazines.

"We can commemorate the memory of Newtown by saying, 'We did something,'" said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. "These new laws are going to save lives. We encourage the rest of the country to do the same."

Queen Laney, the mother of a 33-year-old man shot to death in Northeast Baltimore on Easter Sunday last year, spoke Saturday of how she pictured the anguish of the families of those killed in the Columbine school shootings in 1999.

When her own son was killed, she said, "I no longer had to imagine. I knew."

Robert Nalanza Laney Jr. had six young children and aspirations cut short when he was killed, said his mother, who placed a large photograph of him on the stage and joked about his good looks. Laney said she fell into a deep depression for a year before joining the gun control advocacy group for mothers. The trial of two men implicated in her son's murder is ongoing.

"I have not yet found the words to describe how I feel," Laney said. "How I feel then, or how I feel now."

Gun violence in Baltimore remains stubbornly high a year after Newtown, with fatal and non-fatal shootings up from the year before as of a week ago. On Saturday afternoon, three men were shot and wounded in an East Baltimore barbershop.

Donche Golder, a 17-year-old member of The Intersection, a group that helps at-risk teenagers attend college and encourages them to mentor other youths, said his cousin was shot and killed after he joined efforts to raise awareness about gun violence.

"I felt a chilling combination of sorrow and rage," he said before becoming overwhelmed and pausing. His family gathered around him and pushed him to continue on the right path, rather than fall victim to the same influences, he said.

"Statistically speaking, I have a better chance of spending time in a jail cell than in a college dorm room," he said. "And yet here I am, applying to colleges."

cwells@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cwellssun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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