Rage and resignation at the gun control town hall

Susan Reimer says angry white men are having their say on the gun issue

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A recent poll showed that 62 percent of Marylanders favor a ban on assault weapons, and 71 percent favor a limit on the number of bullets in a gun magazine.

If the members of the General Assembly vote the way the polls are blowing, it appears Gov. Martin O'Malley's sweeping gun reform bill could become law.

However, after attending a town hall meeting in Largo convened by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown on the bill, my straw poll indicates the bill will go down to defeat: angry white men 1, sadly dismayed African-Americans 0.

The meeting Tuesday night on the campus of Prince George's Community College roiled with barely contained fury, just as the first town hall meeting in Baltimore City did last week, according to Deborah Adams, who attended. "The group of [white] men was mainly extremely angry, focused and absolute in their mission," she said. "They expressed seething rage and produced an atmosphere of intimidation which was very uncomfortable to be a part of."

At Tuesday's meeting, Mr. Brown refused to acquiesce to critics' demands that he stand up when he spoke to them "so we can see if he is sincere, if he knows what he is talking about," said Bobby Beaman of Mitchellville, one of those who shouted for Mr. Brown to stand.

"This is a tough issue. We get it," Mr. Brown said after the meeting. "People have strong feelings."

The scene was equally volatile today when busloads of opponents — described as largely white and male — arrived at the State House in Annapolis to testify.

It seems to me the passion is on one side of this issue — the side of those who own and use guns for hunting or recreation or protection and who feel Governor O'Malley's bill is an assault on a God-given and constitutionally supported right.

Mr. Brown and other panel members, including Col. Marcus Brown, secretary of the State Police, stated repeatedly that the bill was not just about gun ownership but about school safety and mental health, and that any guns Marylanders own before an October 2013 effective date will not be subject to new regulation.

But their opponents — primarily white men, and a few white women — continued to mutter and grumble loudly in discontent.

"You cannot legislate a constitutional right," said Jeff, who identified himself as a law scholar. The room applauded him.

When Dale from Prince George's County said the law would "demonize law-abiding citizens," the response again was applause.

Bob Beaman took offense when guns were referred to as "weapons" by someone on the panel and shouted, "Is an umbrella a weapon? Is a baseball bat a weapon?

"If you think of firearms as weapons, we already have a problem."

I was surprised at the way the African-Americans were taking the punches. According to the U.S. Justice Department, 51 percent of those killed by guns between 1980 and 2008 were black, yet African-Americans make up only about 13 percent of the population. Where is the righteous anger?

But only one self-described "spiritual" man spoke, and he asked that the two sides try to listen to each other.

That wasn't happening. That won't happen.

Sharon, an African-American, said she had no problem with the training and licensing requirements of the proposed law. "Nobody assumes I am going to be a drunk driver when I take driver's training and get a driver's license."

Shortly after, she left in disgust, unable to listen anymore, she said.

Gun violence is a scourge in so many black communities, families, churches, schools. It is the leading cause of death among young black men. And yet it seemed those in the audience Tuesday night were willing to let those angry white men, with their National Rifle Association talking points, hijack the conversation. The African-Americans seated near me shook their heads sadly as the testimony continued:

"You don't know how many bullets you need in your gun until it's over."

"Five-hundred and eighty-three dead? That's not a huge public health crisis."

"Why don't we have background checks on elected officials?"

"You are trying to solve a problem we don't have instead of just taking the guns away from violent offenders."

"Guns aren't the problem. Law-abiding gun owners are not the problem."

No. Silence is the problem.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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