Despite a Saturday Night Special law passed three years ago, public awareness campaigns and pleas from Mayor Schmoke and the police, the danger of being killed in the streets of Baltimore is ever-present and increasing. The latest statistics show homicides last month were up 10 percent over January 1990 -- a year in which the city registered 20 percent more killings than in 1989.
One of the fastest-growing threats is the proliferation of military-style assault weapons. Designed for military combat, these guns have no legitimate sporting or self-defense use. But they have become a favorite of drug dealers and other criminals who have turned the nation's cities into war zones.
Governor Schaefer, who successfully pushed for the ban on cheap handguns in 1988, is out front again this legislative session urging lawmakers to ban assault rifles as well. But the pragmatic chief executive knows full well that a state ban will be little more than lip service as long as the weapons can be purchased in nearby states and carried across the border.
Today Schaefer is urging his colleagues at the National Governor's Association winter meeting to sponsor legislation banning assault weapons in their states as well, and to press Congress and the administration to do the same. It will be an uphill political battle to be sure, considering the power of the gun lobby statewide and nationally. Nonetheless, Schaefer is absolutely right. A ban on assault weapons -- or any guns for that matter -- is toothless unless it is a national effort.
We support a national ban on assault weapons as well as national restrictions on guns of all types, implemented in rapid increments until the U.S. has in place the kind of stringent controls that exist now in virtually every European country. The horrifying homicide rate in this country is testimony enough to the need.