Billy Winebrenner, the Middle River youth who died Sunday after being shot during a Labor Day robbery at the service station where he worked, is but the latest victim of an epidemic of handgun homicides that is sweeping Maryland and the nation. In cities and suburbs, law enforcement authorities report a rapidly escalating level of gun violence that could make 1990 one of the bloodiest years on record.
A recent Justice Department study revealed that some 639,000 Americans are threatened annually by offenders armed with handguns. Last year 9,536 Americans were murdered with handguns, up 7 percent from the previous year and 13 percent from 1987. And stories of drug-related gun battles in the streets -- and their tragic toll on innocent bystanders -- have become almost commonplace in the day's news.
That is why every major law enforcement organization is backing two crucial gun control measures that Congress will consider this month: The so-called "Brady Bill," which would impose a national two-week waiting period on the purchase of any handgun, and legislation banning the manufacture and sale of military-style semiautomatic "assault rifles," which have no legitimate sporting, law enforcement or self-defense purpose.
Second Amendment fanatics are already gearing up to blast both efforts with a predictable combination of disinformation, distortion and lies. And in an election year, the temptation to "talk tough" on crime -- while doing nothing to offend the gun lobby -- undoubtedly will be irresistible to many lawmakers. We hope Maryland's congressional delegation is not among them. Billy Winebrenner is a reminder that now is the time for a saner policy against the wanton proliferation of weapons that are turning America's cities and towns into killing fields.