I heard a guy talking with another guy about a gun. This happened Thursday, midmorning, as the No. 8 bus bounced along Greenmount Avenue in my gun-infested city of Baltimore. A middle-aged man in a blue windbreaker, seated across the aisle and one row back, spoke in a loud, gravelly voice. He was on his cellphone, which was set to speaker, with the volume between "loud" and "obnoxious."
I couldn't help but hear the conversation. I heard enough to garner this:
The man on the bus owned a handgun — he said either "a nine" or "nine millimeter" — but he had decided to stop carrying it on the street. The man on the other end of the conversation asked the same question I had: Why?
"If the police shoot a 13-year-old," he said, "what they gonna do with … me?"
I took that as a reference to Dedric Colvin, the eighth-grader wounded by a Baltimore police officer on April 27 after he spotted the boy with what the officer thought was a handgun. It turned out to be a Daisy PowerLine Model 340 spring-air pistol, a BB gun that resembles a real handgun.
The boy has been recovering from wounds to his shoulder and leg. The incident is under review by the Police Department's Special Investigations Response Team.
I had a couple of quick thoughts about the guy on the bus: Maybe, given his age and race (black), his new concern was really an old fear heightened by the BB gun incident: That, from his perspective, Baltimore police are generally aggressive and too quick to use deadly force.
But maybe he was expressing a worry about getting caught with a gun by a police force that, despite being understaffed, has again made gun-related arrests and firearms confiscation a priority.
One of the contextual pieces missing from the conversation about the wounding of Dedric last month was this: Unlike his BB-gun-toting teenage counterparts in the suburbs and rural areas, Dedric and thousands of other children live in a violent city; most of the violence here is caused by people with guns, and sometimes the shooters are not much older than Dedric.
It's lamentable, but it's fact.
Coming off one of the deadliest years in this city's history, Baltimore police are trying to root out bad guys with guns. That's what we want them to do. That's what they get paid to do.
By this time last year, police had made 305 gun-related arrests across the city.
This year, they had made 502 such arrests by April 30 — and there have been more arrests for handgun violations since then.
There was gunfire Tuesday night in the 1800 block of E. Lafayette Ave. Detectives arrested 34-year-old Derrick Anderson and seized a handgun loaded with eight rounds. The same night, a little farther north, detectives arrested 32-year-old Byron Carter; police say he had a loaded handgun, too. On Monday night, in Penn-North, detectives arrested 32-year-old James Dorsey and seized a handgun with four rounds.
Those men are twice the age of suspects who were arrested for having illegal guns the week before, the same week of the Dedric Colvin incident.
On Thursday, April 28, officers on patrol got a tip about someone brandishing a gun near Belair Road and Erdman Avenue. They approached a 15-year-old boy, who took off running. The officers chased him. According to police, the chase ended in a house on Sheldon Avenue. They arrested the teenager for possession of a loaded .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
The next night, someone tipped off police to a young man with a gun in the 1800 block of N. Montford Ave., where a 26-year-old man had been shot to death a day earlier. Police say they stopped and searched a teenager who fit the description they'd been given. They found him with a loaded 9 mm handgun and arrested him. That boy was also 15.
This city is infested with guns. As I wrote this column on Friday afternoon, police reported another shooting: an argument in Harlem Park between two men ending with one of them wounded in the hip.
I don't know for sure what made the guy on the No. 8 leave his gun at home — fear of being shot, fear of police, fear of arrest — but I was glad to overhear him say he won't be carrying anymore. Maybe that means one less shooting. Maybe one fewer dead man. Maybe. The problem seems endless.