The Violence Is Rooted in the Culture, Not the Gun Store

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Not long ago, I brought my gun to Realco Guns in District Heights for cleaning. It is a vintage, J.C. Higgins .22-caliber rifle that my dad purchased from Sears around 1964. We belonged to a father-and-son club in my home town, Shreveport, La., and this was the gun we used whenever the group went out to shoot at tin cans.

In the middle of so much gun violence, it's not easy to cling to fond memories of those days.

During my visit to Realco, several young African American men were checking out large-caliber firearms in a display case. I asked some of them why they wanted a gun.

"Protection," one replied.

"You never know who you might run into," another said.

Nobody mentioned shooting tin cans with Dad.

A protest rally was held outside the gun store yesterday. It turns out that Realco, according to federal data, is the Washington region's biggest source of firearms used in crimes. Apparently guns purchased legally from the store have been resold to or stolen by people who aren't supposed to have them. So several dozen protesters gathered to chant: "Stop the violence! Save the children!" Some even believed that forcing Realco out of business would help to accomplish those things.

"Since I became mayor, getting rid of guns and closing down this store have been high on my list of priorities," District Heights Mayor James Walls told me at the rally. "They've got to come to us for business permits, and we'll be taking a close look at their role in the gun violence that is killing so many of our people."

Realco declined to comment, but an employee released a statement declaring that all its firearms sales are legal and follow procedures set by the FBI and the Maryland State Police.

The protest was organized by the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Not far away, gun advocates staged a counter-protest to decry the dropping of murder charges in cases in which witnesses were too afraid to testify.

"Stop [expletive] and start snitching," one yelled into a loudspeaker.

Not the best way to make a case for gun rights. But the gun-control folks have their shortcomings, too.

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