It has been one month since the devastating tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and most of us are still trying to come to grips with the events of that terrible day. When gun violence rips through a community it is always hard to bear, but when the victims of the violence are innocent children, it is unbearable. We are left wondering how so many young lives could be taken so quickly, and how we can prevent it from happening again.

In our national search for answers, many have understandably been drawn to solutions that might reduce a perpetrator's ability to kill multiple people in short order: restrictions on high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic assault rifles like the Bushmaster .223 used by Adam Lanza. It makes sense for us to consider ways to rein in these tools of mass killing; from prosecuting the Beltway snipers, I know the awful damage a Bushmaster .223 can do in the wrong hands.

But these tools are outliers. The devastation they can cause makes headlines in part because it is still relatively rare. Yet gun violence against our young people is all too common, so common that it doesn't always make the national news. And as too many Maryland parents can attest — particularly parents in violent corners of Baltimore and other tough neighborhoods — the tool most often used to cut short the lives of our young people is the handgun.

Homicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24, and the handgun is the leading tool used to bring about those deaths. In Baltimore alone, in the last five years, gunfire has killed 51 kids under the age of 18 and injured many more, and in nearly every case the shooter used a handgun. These numbers are unacceptably high, and they likely would be even higher if our state did not regulate the public carrying of handguns.

Thankfully, we have sensible handgun laws in Maryland, laws our General Assembly put in place decades ago after a wave of handgun violence in Baltimore schools. Among other things, these laws require people who seek to carry a loaded handgun into schools, shopping malls or crowded city streets to first demonstrate that they are not criminals, not mixed up in drugs and not prone to violence or instability. And these laws require them to explain why they need to carry a loaded handgun in public in the first place. We need these laws in order to keep handguns off the streets when they are not needed, so that we can keep our kids away from gunfire.

That's why my office has been in court, vigorously defending our state's handgun laws from attack by those who want to make it easier to carry loaded handguns in public for no good reason. We have taken our defense to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and are prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if it means keeping more young people safe. We have also been aggressively enforcing our state's other legal checks against unlawful handgun use. Our Firearms Trafficking Unit has been pursuing those who make it easier for handguns to get into the wrong hands, and our Gang Prosecution Unit has been disarming the thugs who use handguns to carry out their violent crimes.

We must continue to defend and enforce our state's existing handgun laws if we want to beat back the tide of handgun violence against our young people. But we also must do more. There are still too many shootings of children and teens, too many Maryland parents grieving unnecessary losses of life. And so I am pledging our office's full support for legislative efforts that further strengthen our state's handgun laws. And I will work with law enforcement officials in the coming weeks and months to evaluate how best to make improvements in other areas — like mental health reporting — where our current safeguards fall short.

One month ago, when the president first voiced our collective grief over the many young lives lost in that elementary school in Newtown, he also called on us to remember the lives lost to gun violence in other places, like shopping malls, temples, movie theaters and city street corners. Today, as we work together to seek solutions to our gun violence epidemic, let's remember the children and youths on unsafe street corners in Baltimore and tough neighborhoods throughout Maryland.

Douglas F. Gansler is attorney general of Maryland. His email is oag@oag.state.md.us.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts