More people were killed on purpose in Montgomery County, Maryland, today than died at the hurricane hands of “Lili” in Louisiana, but I doubt a network anchor will stand in front of the killing scenes in safari jacket and microphone. The background, suburban America, is too prosaic.
It began last evening in a shopping center and continued relentlessly until mid-morning. A male shopper, a man on a lawn mower, a taxi driver getting gas, a victim near a post office, and finally, a woman cleaning her car in a service station. All five shot to death, apparently by occupants of a white truck. No known connection among the victims. Just a few miles apart.
It happened in a state where a primary issue in the hot-and-heavy gubernatorial campaign is gun control. To say the least, Maryland is not a “right to carry” state. It is more a “wrong to own” state. Handgun manufacturers are required to provide state police a fired cartridge from the individual arm in hopes this “fingerprint” may be helpful should the weapon be involved in crime. Would-be buyers of arms go through contorted checks and hoops seeking approval through waiting periods. There is a high commission seated to approve or disapprove some guns on the basis of their cost or looks. The so-called “Saturday night special” was banned long ago. In theory this is a weapon cheap in price and therefor available to the masses and therefore verboten.
Any police department will tell you it hasn’t worked out that way: the Saturday night marauder has better stuff than the standard departmental issue. And the shell casing fingerprint is yet to make its first collar.
But the Brady group is spending millions in ads shellacking the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Robert Ehrlich, for his legislative votes against restrictive gun legislation and his campaign promise to review the work of the gun-ban high commission. The Brady folk support Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a gun control advocate. The issue of gun control may be a deciding factor in the race. And more especially along the corridor of death in Montgomery County where yellow police tape adorns five scenes of death. The conversations, in the nearby hardware stores, the grocery stores and pizza parlors is not, “How did they get those guns?” But rather, “Shouldn’t I have one?”
That police are powerless in these situations is testified to by the length of time over which these killings took place — some 15 hours — without apprehension. And the record: the closure rate for murder in Montgomery County runs around 30 percent, about the same as in the nearby District of Columbia. In other words, two out of three murders go unsolved.
It is against the law in Maryland to have a loaded gun in an automobile. And it is useless to speculate what might have happened had some motorist near one of the killing scenes had one or, were this a “right to carry” state, some citizen afoot. That is as useless as speculation about what might not have happened had the 9/11 airline pilots been armed.
But there is a question that runs beyond statute, to the first law, that of preservation. Should there be something in the seat pocket, or secured under the dash, a forbidden implement that remains unused until that moment when the penalty for having it pales compared to the price of not having it?
Looking at the yellow tape, assessing the grief it represents, the futility of closure, it occurs that that redneck T-shirt speaks an elemental truth: “Better To Be Tried By Twelve Than Carried By Six.”