TEN YEARS ago today I was held up and shot.
It was about 9 o'clock on a balmy evening. I was going to see a friend in Baltimore to take her to a movie. Outside her apartment, two thugs asked me for directions. I told them how to get there, but they wanted me to take them. I refused, and then one pulled a gun and asked me to "hand it over!" I gave the other my wallet.
He searched me and then stood back. We stood there silently for what seemed an eternity but was really only a few seconds. I said, "OK, you got what you wanted. Why don't you just leave?" That's when they shot me.
It took two serious operations and several months of recuperation, but I recovered. The total medical cost was over $32,000. The police never did catch those two thugs who tried and almost succeeded in murdering me. I was mad that they got their handgun so easily.
Before I recovered, I joined the cause of handgun control. In the hospital, I handed out petitions calling for tougher handgun laws. There was no problem having people sign them, since in the hospital people see firsthand the terrible consequences of gun proliferation.
After I got out of the hospital, I testified before Congress and the Maryland General Assembly. I wrote articles and did whatever I could to keep handguns out of the wrong hands.
I was not alone. Many others in Maryland also work hard for better handgun control laws. In 1986 I founded a local organization called Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA). We've had some success. We fought hard for the handgun roster law that passed overwhelmingly in the state referendum in 1988. The law stipulates that MAHA have a representative on the handgun roster board that decides which handguns may be sold in Maryland. I serve on the board as that representative. MAHA's leadership has changed several times since I started it. Tony Ambridge, Baltimore city councilman, was president for a year, and now attorney Vincent DeMarco is the head.
But though much has been accomplished in the past 10 years, there is much to do.
We need to ban assault weapons. The problem with assault weapons did not become severe until 1989, the year after the roster board law was written. Assault weapons are semiautomatic guns based on military machine gun designs. Several varieties are small enough to fit the definition of handgun and have therefore come before the gun roster board. I've tried to have assault weapons disapproved, but the law does not allow handguns to be rejected simply because they have assault weapon characteristics. A law specifically banning assault weapons is needed.
We also need to limit the capacity of ammunition magazines to no more than six bullets before a gun is reloaded. Mandatory safety training and exams should be required for anyone who wants to use a gun. There should be a strict permit required to own a handgun. A national waiting period and a data base for checking the background of gun buyers is needed. The data base would include the registration record of each gun produced -- so that it could be traced. The handgun roster law should be amended to remove certain handguns from sale to the general public and allow only police to possess them.
In the 10 years since I was shot, much has been done to control handguns. But there are still too many falling into the hands of thugs like those who shot me. Better controls and better enforcement are needed. If we succeed, perhaps in 2001 what happened to me will be a thing of the past.
Matthew C. Fenton IV writes from Baltimore.