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A gun makes all the difference

Media references to the Baltimore trial of Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim now come with a made-for-Google-Trends phrase: "A case with similarities to the Trayvon Martin shooting." Here are some of them:

Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim are white and 21 and 24 years old, respectively; the Park Heights teenager they are accused of assaulting, 16-year-old Corey Ausby, is black. In the Florida case, Trayvon Martin was 17 and black; the man accused of shooting him, George Zimmerman, is 28, and he's been described elsewhere in the press as a "white Hispanic." His father is white, his mother is from Peru.

Eliyahu Werdesheim was a volunteer with Shormrim, the Orthodox Jewish volunteer security patrol that serves northwest Baltimore. George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer in his community, too.

Racial profiling has been suggested in both cases. The outraged assume George Zimmerman targeted Trayvon Martin because he was wearing a hoodie and walking through Mr. Zimmerman's predominantly white gated community. In the Baltimore case, Corey Ausby was on his way to meet his mother at a bus stop when the Werdesheims, in a red car, pulled up next to him on Fallstaff Road, and Eliyahu reportedly said, "You don't belong around here; this is not your neighborhood." A civil suit Corey Ausby's mother filed against the Werdesheims says they had been "patrolling the area in a red vehicle impersonating police officers in search for an African American child to harass and intimidate in the Park Heights predominantly Jewish community."

The narrative in both cases includes pursuit and unprovoked attacks by 20-something white men on unarmed black teenagers, though in the Baltimore case, Corey Ausby supposedly armed himself with a board pulled from a nearby pallet when he realized he was being monitored by the Werdesheims.

And that brings us to another similarity: Self-defense. The Werdesheims claim they were acting in self-defense when they fought with Corey Ausby. Ditto George Zimmerman in his struggle with Trayvon Martin.

So, it's not just for the Google hits that the local and national press make connections between the Werdesheim case and the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

But, for all the similarities, there's a huge difference that makes the aforementioned comparisons mere trivialities: Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman had a gun. You take the gun out of the story, and there's no story, and Al Sharpton has to come up with other provocative issues for his show on MSNBC.

Florida is a shall-issue state, with liberal gun laws, as well as a stand-your-ground law — the makings of tragedy like the one playing out this spring.

Without the gun, George Zimmerman, calls 911 and reports a suspicious youth, and the police take it from there. No pursuit. No confrontation. No fight. No shooting. No senseless death with racial overtones. No story.

In this regard, there are a couple of other stories from Baltimore — one that made national news — that offer stronger parallels to the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

Thirty-two years ago in Baltimore County, an elderly man named Roman Welzant was charged with killing a neighborhood teenager and wounding another who had pelted his Dundalk home with snowballs. The case was featured on "60 Minutes." Mr. Welzant ended up being acquitted on all charges, but, of course, a young man was dead over snowballs — because Mr. Welzant had a gun.

In the 1990s, a neighborhood block captain in West Baltimore shot a 13-year-old boy for repeatedly ringing his elderly father's doorbell in West Baltimore. An elderly man on North Avenue shot and killed another teen while trying to scare kids away from his car. Take the guns out of those stories, and there are no stories, and those teenagers would be well into their adult lives by now.

Those cases come to mind when I regard pathetic George Zimmerman in Florida.

We have a gun culture that's here to stay. Despite decades of violence, including mass killings, the National Rifle Associated has scored numerous legislative victories in the liberalization of gun laws, and the Supreme Court has supported the trend to reverse even modest, common-sense efforts at gun control. "It is clear," Supreme Court JusticeSamuel A. Alito Jr.wrote for the majority in as important 2010 case, "that the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty."

We pay a heavy price for "ordered liberty."

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com. Twitter: @DanRodricks.

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