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Rodricks: Reducing firepower, reducing risk in Baltimore

A pistol apprehended by Baltimore police officers from suspect Ryan Hazel, who was involved in a fatal car crash that took the life of 66-year-old Margaret Hall. The pistol came with an extended magazine that was shown to the press at the Baltimore Police Headquarters in August.
A pistol apprehended by Baltimore police officers from suspect Ryan Hazel, who was involved in a fatal car crash that took the life of 66-year-old Margaret Hall. The pistol came with an extended magazine that was shown to the press at the Baltimore Police Headquarters in August. (Michael Ares / Baltimore Sun)

Pardon me while I shift focus for a moment from "bump stocks" on assault rifles, like the one reportedly used in Sunday's mass killing in Las Vegas, to something just as likely to destroy the lives of multiple human beings at one time: the 50-round magazine Baltimore police say they confiscated from an alleged gangster's car in August.

The device is black, shaped like a drum, designed to fit a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and allow the shooter to fire up to 50 bullets. Glock is the brand name on this item, described as "tactical" in advertising. The drums are manufactured in South Korea. I found them for sale online at a range of prices, from $39.99 to $120.

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Baltimore police say they picked one up for free from inside a 2010 Nissan Maxima in August.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on Aug. 10, an officer spotted the Nissan speeding through West Baltimore and tried to stop it at Baltimore and Mount streets. Police say the Nissan sped off. A few blocks away, in the intersection of West Pratt and South Mount streets, the car struck a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta driven by 66-year-old Margaret Ann-Marie Hall, police say. She died instantly.

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A look at what a few days of violence reveal about the city's many challenges

Officers arrested 25-year-old Ryan Hazel, the driver of the Nissan, near the scene. In searching his car, they say, they found the handgun and the high-capacity magazine.

Kevin Davis, the Baltimore police commissioner, appeared at a press briefing the next day to talk about this case for two reasons.

The first was to note Hazel's criminal record. Davis called him a "validated Bloods gang member" and repeat offender who now faced additional charges, but who should never have been on the street. For a gun crime in 2015, Davis noted, Hazel had received a three-year sentence; all but six months were suspended.

Both the Baltimore state's attorney's office and the office of the Maryland public defender confirmed that a prosecutor had recommended that sentence as part of a plea deal. Asked why, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney called the Hazel plea agreement "abnormal" and not representative of the office's "general protocols to follow sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders."

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"The problem has been addressed internally and we will continue to stay vigilant in the pursuit of creating a safer city," spokeswoman Melba Saunders said.

At the press briefing, Davis also made a point of presenting the confiscated gun and drum, calling it a "weapon of death."

He could easily have called it a weapon of mass death.

Someone determined to use this handgun and magazine in an assault — and handguns are used in most firearm homicides in Baltimore and throughout the country — could kill or wound several victims before needing to reload.

Fifty rounds sounds like a lot, but magazines of even larger capacity are available. One of the weapons James Holmes used in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre in 2012 was an assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Holmes managed to shoot 70 people, killing 12 of them.

When Daniel Webster, the firearms policy expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, suggests ways for the nation to reduce gun deaths, he points to high-capacity magazines as an unnecessary risk to public safety.

"This extraordinary firepower enables gunmen to kill and wound more victims than they otherwise could if they used weapons that held fewer bullets," he wrote in an essay after the Aurora massacre. "There is obviously no need for any civilian to have such powerful weapons."

But, of course, I found the 50-round drum online for as little as $39.99.

So while it's interesting to hear otherwise gun-drunk Republican politicians talk about restricting sales of the "bump stock" that made possible the rapid fire of hundreds of bullets in Las Vegas, I'm looking at this drum magazine, allegedly taken from an alleged gang member in Baltimore, and wondering why it even exists.

Gun enthusiasts will say it makes target practice and gun-function checks more convenient — you don't have to reload your handgun after 10 measly rounds — but public safety for all should come before convenience to a relatively small number of firearms fans.

The rest of the nation should follow Maryland. In 2013, the General Assembly banned magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. That won't keep bigger ones from showing up from time to time. It won't prevent mass killings. But it will reduce the carnage.

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