The protesters carried signs saying "End Handgun Violence" and "No Multiple Sales." In response, the gun shop owners they were picketing hung a sign over the front door saying, "It's the criminals, stupid!"
Such was the clash of ideology yesterday outside the Baltimore Gunsmith shop at 200 S. Broadway, with about 20 protesters rallying against the unlimited sale of firearms and the shop owners sticking to their guns and saying people are the real killers.
"The problem has been that gun dealers tend to see this as an economic issue. But we see it as a death issue," said the protest leader, Richard M. Willis, executive director, Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA).
"People think these guns used in the killings are coming from the outside. They're not. They're sold at stores right here in our own community."
Mr. Willis and the other protesters targeted Baltimore Gunsmith because a recent study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms identified the shop as a prolific source of handguns for Baltimore criminals.
The study analyzed 691 Maryland firearms that had been used in crimes. Of those, 131 -- or 19 percent -- had been sold at the Baltimore Gunsmith shop, putting it at the top of the list of Maryland shops that have sold firearms used in crimes, the firearms bureau reported.
Anthony DiMartino and his son Larry, the co-owners of the shop, refused to comment yesterday but did say that their sign summed up their opinion on the matter. In a recent interview, Larry DiMartino defended the shop's selling practices, but added that it's difficult to prevent the problem of "straw purchasing."
Straw, or third-party, purchases are transactions in which felons pay people without criminal records to buy firearms. By law, felons are barred from purchasing a gun. Yesterday's protesters said that straw purchases could be curbed if gun shops voluntarily refuse to sell more than one gun to an individual.
"We sell over 30,000 guns a year in Maryland, and 40 percent of those are bought by people who buy two or more," said Mr. Willis, whose 21-year-old son, Charles, was shot to death at a Severna Park Dunkin' Donuts shop in August 1993 by a man who wanted his $2 pen.
In a letter to the Baltimore Gunsmith shop, Mr. Willis asks the owners to "take a proactive stance in stemming the gun violence epidemic" by stopping the multiple sales of handguns and requiring that purchasers have some proof of firearms training.
The protesters said yesterday that their aim was not to ban handguns, but to inform gun shops on their responsibility to insure that firearms aren't so readily available to criminals.
"It's time that gun shops become more responsible. It's unfortunate that people profit off the loss of lives in the city," said Gary Gillespie, 43, whose 2 1/2 -year-old nephew was critically wounded while playing with a handgun five years ago. "Limiting the number of handguns is a beginning. But of course, that will limit the gun shop owners' profits and they'll resist that," Mr. Gillespie said.
The shop seemed to be doing a brisk business yesterday even with the picket line in front for one hour.
One man, who wouldn't give his name, said to the protesters, "You folks are about 30 years too late. There's no turning back now. There are too many problems. We need guns now more than ever."