I prefer not to split my columns, but in this case there are two recent issues which deserve comment. The first is the tragic mass shooting at the Naval Yard just outside of Washington, D.C., which resulted in the deaths of 12 victims and the perpetrator. The second is the call by a group led by Scott Strzelczyk, a Carroll County resident, for Maryland's five western counties - Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett - to secede from the rest of Maryland.
With respect to the Naval Yard shooting, the initial response was predictable, both in its origin and its content. The smoke had not cleared from the scene before gun-control activists were loudly blaming, not the shooter, not the obviously flawed security procedures at the gate, but the NRA and "assault weapons" for this latest outrage.
The problem is that their protestations made even less sense than usual this time.
There is a narrative into which those antagonistic toward the Second Amendment like to plug such incidents. Common elements include the use by the perpetrator of large-capacity magazines, so-called "assault weapons" (military-style semiautomatics, often AR-15 variants), and the fact that these weapons have been obtained legally, or at least semi-legally, as by swiping them from a family member.
The problem is that this incident did not fit into that narrative. The weapon used was an ordinary pump-action Remington Model 870 Wingmaster, a more than 50-year-old design widely used by the public for sport shooting, hunting and self-defense. It appears on no list of banned guns, not even Gov. Martin O'Malley's.
The perpetrator used this classic firearm - one which many of us have in our closets, gun safes or under our beds - to ambush and kill at least one security guard, apparently taking his 9 mm pistol; if that individual had had an AR-15, he might have taken that, too, as was at one point reported.
The point is that someone who is sufficiently determined to commit murder and mayhem can and will do so regardless of whether or not he is equipped with a high-tech military-style rifle and high-capacity magazines. Aaron Alexis did not need an AR-15 to allegedly kill 12 people at the Navy Yard; a traditional 12-gauge pump-action was quite sufficient for the task.
As has been the case in virtually every mass shooting since the 1950s, this one occurred in what was a de facto gun-free zone, a fact well-known to the shooter since he was a contractor on the base. And as has been the case in every such incident (with the one exception of a woman - Antoinette Tuff, of Atlanta, Ga., - who talked a would-be perpetrator out of embarking on a killing spree in the first place), the only thing which proved capable of stopping a bad man with a gun were good men with guns.
Now, with respect to this effort to break the five western counties away from the state of Maryland, I can quite understand the urge. These five counties tend to be much more conservative than the rest of the state, especially those counties ringing Baltimore, those ringing Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. I get frustrated at some of the governor's shenanigans myself.
However, I just don't see it happening. The likelihood of the General Assembly voting in favor of any such proposal is similar to the chances of a snowball in south Texas, and then what? Would the five counties try to secede by force? And there's hardly unanimous support in any of them for secession. Republicans in the western counties would do better to find ways of increasing their voter rolls and showing Democrats in the Assembly a little competition. Not as sexy as secession, maybe, but a whole lot more likely to succeed.