Children speak out for gun control


With a poetry reading, a rap song and a poster presentation, several Baltimore schoolchildren joined top city officials and state legislators yesterday for a rally at City Hall in support of comprehensive state gun control legislation.

Dying, crying, hiding

Upset, confused

Why should children suffer?

This was the question in a poem by Erik Robinson, a first-grader at Arundel Elementary School in South Baltimore.

Just wave your hands in the air

If you want to stop the violence

today say Oh yeah.

That was the exhortation in a rap song performed by three eighth-graders at Garrison Middle School in Northwest Baltimore.

A baby holding a handgun with the inscription "Is This A Picture of Things to Come?" was the image in a poster presented by Cory Way, a 10th-grader at Walbrook Senior High in West Baltimore; bullets piercing a heart and hitting a tombstone figured in a poster by Ishmail Cooper-Bey, a 10th-grader at St. Francis Academy in East Baltimore.

The student presentations lent a mixture of innocence and immediacy to yesterday's rally, one of a series around the state bTC to announce support for the gun control legislation drafted by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA).

"We will support legislation that will stop the senseless violence on the streets. We owe it to these young kids. We owe it to their parents," said Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who heads the city's House delegation.

Mr. Boston, one of 27 state delegates and senators from Baltimore -- out of a total of 36 -- to declare their support for the MAHA proposal, was one of several city legislators to attend yesterday's rally.

The key elements of the proposal include the licensing of all prospective handgun and ammunition purchasers; a ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons; and the prohibition of handgun possession by those under 21.

"This is a national model," Vincent DeMarco, MAHA's executive director, said yesterday.

Last month, 21 Montgomery County legislators announced their support for the proposal, Mr. DeMarco said. Similar events will be held today in Prince George's County and Monday in Baltimore County, he said.

The local events will culminate in a rally in front of the State House at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 17 that will feature James Brady, who was shot during an attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The recently enacted federal Brady bill requiring a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases is named for Mr. Brady, a presidential aide at the time of the assassination attempt.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he was "not proud" of statistics showing sharp increases in the number of handguns and assault weapons confiscated by city police in the past three years and that 75 percent of homicides are committed with handguns.

"We know it is time to stop this violence and bring some sanity to the regulation of handguns in this state," said Mr. Schmoke, who also urged support of a Jan. 15 "Turn in the Guns" campaign sponsored by Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned Inc.

Joining the mayor at yesterday's rally were City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and several members of the City Council.

State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, said after the rally that the MAHA proposal faces an uphill battle. Mr. Pica, who supports the bill and is a member of the 11-member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which considers gun legislation, said that only three other members of the committee favor the proposal.

"It's a very ambitious proposal, but it stands little chance of passing unless the makeup of the committee is changed or the Senate leadership decides to pass a meaningful bill on handguns," Mr. Pica said.

The youngsters at yesterday's rally -- among more than 200 who participated in a citywide contest to make anti-violence presentations through art, music and words -- have something to say to the legislators.

Cory, the Walbrook 10th-grader, said he pictured a baby with a handgun as a way of conveying the idea that younger and younger people seem to be using guns. "I figured this would send a message to a lot of people," he said.

Anthony Player, who performed the "Stop the Violence Rap" with classmates Christopher Jones and Denarris Johnson, said their motivation was simple.

"We just wanted to put something together. All this violence doesn't make any sense. Somebody's got to stop it," he said.

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