The Question Politicians Dare not ask in Baltimore

When public high schools had rifle teams and students carried their guns in public, why didn’t we have school shootings?

By Dan Gifford

Originally published Firing Line magazine

As a voting member of the film award community here in Los Angeles, I attended a private screening of "Charm City" last night. It's a documentary film about the violence that ails Baltimore, according to its public relations blurb:

" CHARM CITY delivers a candid portrait of citizens, police, community advocates, and government officials on the frontlines during three years of unparalleled, escalating violence in Baltimore. The film highlights the positive actions undertaken by groups and individuals, optimistically offering humanity as common ground."

The name "Charm City" was a 1975 nickname dreamed up by the city's leading advertising executives to put lipstick on the urban pig named Baltimore.

It's a very good film that is a definite Oscar contender. I was particularly impressed with the photography and sound quality that captured the human toll of those who must deal with circumstances few can imagine.

But that human element that touches the emotions comes at a price. That price in "Charm City" is the omission of the massive corruption within the Baltimore city government and police departments that makes the drug dealing and murder seen in the film and the TV series "The Wire" possible.

Having been a teen gofer for "Big Tommy" D'Alesandro (the city's political boss and Nancy Pelosi's father) as well as a Baltimore reporter during the 1960s, I personally observed the slime of its city government and police department. I know about the corruption "Charm City" left out. Its only reference to that was the 2017 death of Baltimore Detective Sean Suiter. He was shot in the head with his own gun the day before he was to testify before a grand jury investigating police corruption. After much secrecy under cover of bureaucracy and the refusal of the FBI to investigate, Suiter's death was ruled a suicide -- or not, according to some with intimate knowledge of the case.

The last time I went to Baltimore was for a 1999 screening of my Oscar nominated, Emmy winning film "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" at the Charles Theater. If you missed it, "Waco" is about the same thing director Barbara Trent said her film, "The Panama Deception," was about when it won the 1992 Best Feature Documentary Oscar: "Your government and media lied to you."

Hold that thought.

Now I'm headed for The Monument City again for the fiftieth anniversary reunion of my Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly) graduating class.

I was the student body president of Poly, Baltimore's preeminent academic high school and afterwards a reporter at WBMD, WCBM and later CNN and The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, among other news organizations. Long Baltimore memories may recall me as the guy who had to go on after mega popular talk host Gene Burns abruptly quit WCBM in an on air 1969 implosion when appliance dealer Jack Luskin and friends stormed the studio and denounced Burns' comments about Israel during a series of fact finding reports from there Luskin had sponsored. The WCBM phone banks melted for months from angry Baltimore and Washington, DC calls and the station almost tanked. Burns died several years ago while a top rated KGO, San Francisco talk host.

Extraordinary as that Luskin incident was at the time, it didn't begin to match Baltimore's amazing present day homicide rate. Even more astounding is the fact almost all of the murder reduction solutions promoted by idealistic politicians and their attendant chattering class punditry who see government intervention as the cure for almost all societal afflictions -- those H.L. Mencken called "the uplifters" in his day -- are the sort of 1925 gun ban proposals that Mencken called "jackass legislation" that "would simply take them [guns] out of the hands of honest men."

Setting aside the high minded arguments of uplifters Charles Krauthammer, George Will and others that even honest men and women should have their guns confiscated (which is the stated goal of the "gun control" movement after registration is achieved), Mencken's temporal world observation was correct then and still is as you shall read. So is Mencken's take on the part government and media prevarications -- that thought you held -- play in scaring the public into believing false "facts" and simpleton fixes: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence, clamoring to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Baltimore's murders aren't imaginary. But the idea that gutting a constitutional right will reduce or end them is as unreal as the promises of the Murphy men and strip joint street touters that used to work The Block. Second Amendment damaging schemes are false remedies that put a foolish American public in the mood to roll back more civil liberties to save us from a fallacious enemy called the gun.

That is why this long discredited narrative about the cause of crime and murder persists: It's an "easy access to guns" like "guns that are too easily accessed in the home," writes Maryland Institute professor Firmin DeBrabander.

An "easy access to guns?"

We can all agree that bad people do bad things with guns. So do bad people whose constitutional due process rights prevent their arrest or incarceration. But perspective being an essential part of art, the lack of an historical viewpoint from an art professor is fascinating.

For instance, this is a photo of Poly's 1965-1966 rifle team.

POLY RIFLE TEAM 1966 II-1536017927-4645

Poly team members did then what was common practice all over America. They carried their rifles on the city busses and streetcars to school and the shooting range. Any one of the pictured -- or those at other schools -- could have gone on a shooting rampage.

But they didn't.

The front seat of the school bus I boarded in North Carolina before moving to Baltimore usually had several rifles and shotguns on it. And the same was true all over the U.S.

They could have been used to shoot-up the school, but they weren't.

This photo from the 1956 University of North Carolina yearbook shows the annual rifle marksmanship contest on the campus.

ANNUAL UNC CAMPUS SHOOT 1956-1536017973-5232

Those students kept their rifles in their dorm rooms. A common practice that could have presaged a terror spree. But that didn't happen.

As for those "assault weapons" some want to ban, if they are too dangerous to own now, why were they not years ago?

This 1967 photo shows a Black Panther party member holding a semi-automatic M1 Carbine with a 30 round "high capacity" magazine. Some carbines that look just like the pictured one are machine guns. This picture so scared the National Rifle Association that it endorsed unheard of gun controls for the times. Now the NRA is hoisted on its own petard as anti-Second Amendment activists seek to outlaw possession of such weapons for the sake of "public safety."


The degree to which military small arms weapons like pistols, rifles and even machine guns were owned and responsibly used within past main stream culture has been forgotten amid our contemporary "blame the gun" political rhetoric. Forgotten too is the degree to which the particular rifle held above was a part of American pop culture folklore spread by Hollywood.

Oscar winner Jimmy Stewart played the inventor of the carbine in the 1952 film "Carbine Williams."


The real "Carbine" Williams is shown here with Stewart. That is real military weaponry Stewart is holding that was widely available.

CARBINE WILLIAMS ET JIMMY STEWART 1953-1536018066-9276 (1)

How available is part of the story line of the 1952 Oscar nominated film, The Sniper. It concerns the hunt for a crazed man who is shooting women in San Francisco.

THE SNIPER 1952 POSTER-1536018139-4359

Police immediately identify the murder weapon as an M1 Carbine. The case detective, played by the Oscar nominated actor Adolph Menjou, then voices the futility of using carbine ownership to find the killer: "There are 100 or more of those in every block of the city." True. And not just in San Francisco.

CARBINE AD-1536018910-8900

Millions were made and millions were brought home from our wars. Millions more were sold in magazine ads like this one. It's the rifle Malcolm X encouraged blacks to buy as defense against the Ku Klux Klan. It's the rifle I saw blacks did buy in North Carolina for protection from the Klan.

Then there were the semiautomatic M1 rifles and the revolvers and semiautomatic pistols and machine guns of all sorts stashed in homes. The latter could be bought by mail as well.

MACHINE GUN ADS-1536019103-5429

I knew of about 15 fully operational machine guns in my North Carolina hometown of Chapel Hill and I knew of almost that many in Baltimore. Any or all could have been used for a mass kill.

But they weren't.

If "easy access to guns" is truly the cause of Baltimore's massive criminal gun and mass shootings in schools, why wasn't it before?

The conclusion of the Carter administration's 1981 blue ribbon study on the relationship between firearms and violence has the answer that is universally omitted from public discourse:

"It is commonly hypothesized that much criminal violence, especially homicide, occurs simply because firearms are readily at hand and, thus, that much homicide would not occur were firearms generally less available. There is no persuasive evidence that supports this view."

The lead researcher of that report wrote that "a compelling case for gun control cannot be made." Virtually all intellectually honest scholars who have seriously studied the subject agree. There remain some who do not, but as I noted in a 1993 Baltimore Sun piece, their work, like that of disgraced Emory professor Michael A. Bellesiles, has largely been exposed as flawed or fraudulent.

Surprised by the Carter commission's findings? So were they.

Carter's commissioned researchers had expected to verify the famous 1969 Johnson administration study chaired by retired Johns Hopkins president Milton Eisenhower. It concluded that guns do cause violence and that private ownership of handguns should be banned. What Carter's researchers verified instead was that the Johnson study was "results oriented," that it had reached a predetermined conclusion comporting with the political biases and social views of its researchers. Based on what I heard said at Hopkins when my mother was a professor of epidemiology and subsequent research material from "The John," the Michael Bloomberg funded Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy now continues that tradition.

But gun blame allows us to avoid mention of the cultural rots that largely drive the filling of Baltimore's body bags. "The game" of drug dealing is arguably the major factor, but that and other criminality is encouraged and justified by the cultures of Afrocentrism and hip-hop that promote the poisons of ignorance, bitterness and murderous malevolence within the black community where almost all of the Bodymore carnage takes place.

The denial of that is as fascinating as Sun deputy editorial page editor Tricia Bishop's stunning naivete about the difference between Baltimore's murderers and the supposed danger posed by legal gun owners:

"It's inevitable when my husband and I visit family these days that the subject of violence in Baltimore comes up. Often, I'm the one who raises it. But when it came up last week on a trip to see my parents in Georgia, I got my back up. I thought of the 11-hour drive south and the billboards we passed along I-81 boasting guns for sale ("A Glock for Christmas"!), and of the story my brother-in-law, who lives in Florida, told of a neighbor stopping by to shoot the breeze in his suburban driveway, a handgun holstered at the man's waist as their kids played nearby.

I'm less afraid of the criminals wielding guns in Baltimore, I declared as we discussed the issue, than I am by those permitted gun owners. I know how to stay out of the line of Baltimore's illegal gunfire; I have the luxury of being white and middle class in a largely segregated city that reserves most of its shootings for poor, black neighborhoods overtaken by "the game." The closest I typically get to the action is feeling the chest-thumping vibrations of the Foxtrot police helicopter flying overhead in pursuit of someone who might be a few streets over, but might as well be a world away. But I don't know where the legal gun owners are or how to ensure that their children, no matter how well versed in respecting firearms, won't one day introduce that weapon to my daughter."

The deficient reasoning of Bishop's comment to my eyes is only matched by that of the Afrocentric activist ringers Baltimore school superintendent Laurence G. Paquin planted at a series of 1966 student body president luncheons. Paquin's agenda was singularly focused on bashing my school, Poly, as a "white image school" in need of lowered academic standards.

"Poly is forcing the black man to learn the white man's mathematics," one Paquin plant screamed at me in the the hissing, venomous tone in style among activists then.

"We demand Poly teach the black man's mathematics," he continued before launching into a rant about the evil white Greeks stealing the black man's mathematics and then torching the Alexandria library to hide the crime.

Wanna clue about the toxin too many of Baltimore's criminals carry in their heads? There ya go.

Wellesley classic professor of Mary Lefkowitz wrote "Not Out of Africa: How Afro Centrism Became and Excuse to Teach Myth as History" to counter that Afro-centrist insanity. If Baltimore is "The City That Reads," as former mayor Kurt Schmoke said, "Not Out of Africa" should be mandatory. But to do that, one must first be able to read and that is something way too many within Baltimore's black population, the population that is gunning each other down, cannot do.

You have seen the headlines:

* Baltimore Receives its Worst Literacy Ranking Ever.

* Baltimore Schools Report Zero Students Proficient in Math and Reading.

* Baltimore Students Score Near Bottom of National Reading and Math Skills .

* Not Present or Accounted for: The Attendance Crisis in Baltimore.

Those headlines are the direct result of Paquin's pandering to the insane racial political demands of past years made worse by massive corruption and the embracement of destructive cultural trends that promote hate and encourage ignorance.

That black man's mathematics? I learned there is such a thing from one of the WBMD's hyperventilating preachers when I was a reporter there. It's called supreme mathematics and it is part of a philosophy dreamed-up by a paranoid schizophrenic who called himself Clarence 13X. His destructive delusions are an integral part of the hip-hop culture as noted by black sports writer Jason Whitlock who slammed it regarding NFL football and it's devastating impact on black community unemployment.

"The hip-hop culture is all about attitude, anger, sticking it to the man, selfishness and rebelliousness — not exactly the traits a football coach is looking for. Maybe you've noticed how many rappers, who carry the flag for the hip-hop generation, wind up on the wrong side of the law as well. Black players didn't behave this way until this hip-hop gangsta business began ... Race is not the determining factor when it comes to having a good or bad attitude," wrote Whitlock. 'Culture is.'"

Dahveed Nelson agrees.

He's the man credited as the 1960s originator of the rap music that was hijacked by others into the hip-hop art form -- particularly the "gangsta" version -- that praises criminality and
school skipping.

"This whole hip-hop generation, it's the devil. It's Satan. It's hedonism. It's the pursuit of pleasure. There's no soul" Nelson notes.

It's a perfect musical score for the city that bleeds.


This column was first published in Firing Line magazine.
Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated film producer and former reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer News Hour and ABC News.