Ira Johnson, a beefy guy who works as a federal security officer and has lived in the densely populated heart of this city all of his life, is trying to raise two children, and he's nervous.
His 16-year-old daughter, he said, watched a young man fall dead from a gunshot wound across the street from his Homewood Avenue house in March. His 10-year-old son, he fears, may be affected by the growing presence of drugs and weapons in his neighborhood.
"It's getting awfully scary out here," he said today.
Johnson, 41, stood with a poster and bumper sticker tucked under one arm to hear what Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs and U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, who are running for governor and lieutenant governor, had to say about the violence that has plagued his East Baltimore neighborhood.
Standing in an alley where a 29-year-old man was killed in a drug-related shootout on March 31, Sachs and Mitchell announced a plan to support a ban on the sale and manufacture of cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials in Maryland and to institute mandatory minimum sentences for illegal handgun possession.
Sachs also said that as governor he would veto any legislative attempt to overturn a controversial state Court of Appeals decision that allows gun manufacturers and distributors to be held liable for injuries caused by weapons they distribute.
Saturday night specials, Sachs said, "are an instrument of death that has no purpose other than the wounding of persons and the commission of crime."
Mitchell, who joined Sachs' ticket two weeks ago, said that his position in the race is an extension of an anticrime campaign he began two years ago year in the city's black community and known as "Us Killing Us =Genocide."
Mitchell, who has been walking the city's streets as part of the campaign, said police officials have told him that there are 150,000 to 200,000 illegal guns on the streets of Baltimore.
"On one street in one 10-block stretch, I met five people who had had family members killed" by guns, he said. Mitchell, who lives on the city's west side, also said that several members of his family have been victims of muggings or shootings during the past several years.
There is "a great deal of fear" in the community, Mitchell said.
Johnson, who expressed as much fear and concern over the drugs in his neighborhood as over the handgun issue, said a move by Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer -- Sachs' primary opponent -- is responsible for his neighborhood's problems.
"I know for a fact that they're selling drugs on 21st and Greenmount right now," he said, gesturing toward the intersection two blocks away. "They moved them off of Barclay Street when Mayor Schaefer went through with his trolley. And then it moved east to my neighborhood."
The trolley is a tourist shuttle that operates between downtown Baltimore and sites throughout the city.
Sachs challenged Schaefer to pledge that he will also uphold the Court of Appeals decision and implement mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for illegal handgun possession.
The last time the two candidates sparred on the issue of gun control was during the winter General Assembly session when Schaefer made conflicting statements about whether he would support a bill to ban handguns in Baltimore.
Schaefer, interviewed in Ocean City where he is attending the Maryland Municipal League convention, said that he would support mandatory minimum sentences for illegal handgun possession but would not support a handgun bill for Baltimore.
"You don't just pass a law for Baltimore City only," Schaefer said. "Enforcing existing laws will need a little work community by community."
Schaefer said he has provided leadership on crime by working through city police Commissioner Bishop Robinson.