Five years ago, the newsroom in Annapolis where I was editor was attacked. Five people were shot to death.

In the aftermath, as I’ve recently been reminded, I started asking what we could do to prevent the next mass shooting.

There were good answers. Mike Busch, then the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, told me he’d seek a ban on ghost guns. It passed three years after he died in 2019.

There were frank answers. Brian Frosh, the state attorney general at the time, told me ruefully that Maryland already had just about all the gun violence prevention laws likely to pass. None could have stopped the attack.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Then there was just plain stupid, like the guy who asked if I felt guilty for not allowing reporters who worked for me to carry firearms.

Sunday, I heard someone else wrestle with this heart-rending puzzle. How do we fix this?

At a City Dock vigil for three people shot to death in a June 11 mass shooting, I listened to Julian Segovia, the brother of one of the victims, blame elected officials standing nearby for not figuring out how to stop a repeat of this madness five years after the Capital Gazette shooting.

“This is a tragedy that cannot be allowed to be repeated,” Segovia said, as pleasure boaters passed behind him on Spa Creek, oblivious to the anger and grief ashore.

If they can’t, he added, we need new people in office.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

While I share Segovia’s frustration, many of the elected leaders I saw that morning have done more to try to halt gun violence in Annapolis and the surrounding communities than any of their predecessors.

More important, I’ve come to realize I have been asking the wrong question.

Mass shootings remain an insidiously American plague, but they are only the most highly visible expression of the ongoing willingness of many of our countrymen — it is not exclusively men, but almost always — to settle a dispute by pulling a trigger.

Guns are the problem. There would simply be far fewer deaths if we were not adrift on a sea of guns. Every dispute is instantly made potentially lethal when a gun is added to the mix.

And that sea — flooded with names like Glock 19, AR-15 and Mossberg 590 Shockwave — is constantly tumbled and tossed and roiled by rage.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Every time I write about gun violence, readers want me to explain why, if Maryland has such good laws, do people keep dying. Why aren’t we safer?

Because there is no clawing back those guns. It’s simply not going to happen. And actually, Maryland crime and gun violence have fallen in the years since gun violence prevention laws started expanding in Maryland — from limits on magazines to digital fingerprinting to safe storage rules.

I’m not the only one who sees this.

“We know that since the 1990s, incidences of violent crime have gone down across America,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said Thursday. “Since the 1990s, we’ve had fewer murders, fewer rapes, fewer assaults. But today, the fear of violence is fueled by a collection of false narratives that we allow to continue to exist.”

Moore was speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. I was invited because I serve on the board of the National Press Club Journalism Institute and I’m from Maryland.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Moore used his 20-minute address to talk about crime and gun violence, and how they continue to be used as a political bogeyman by politicians such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican ideologue running for president.

DeSantis recently invoked Baltimore’s ludicrously high gun death numbers at a campaign stop in New Hampshire. “If you’re in Baltimore or Chicago, these kids have a better chance of getting shot than getting a first-class education,” he said.

It’s the same cynical ploy that Richard Nixon used more than a half-century ago, stoking fear of crime to win the presidency. It’s the same fear that gun makers use to enrich themselves, turning from marketing guns as tools for hunting to weapons essential for home defense.

And it’s that fear employed by irresponsible journalists like those at Chesapeake Today to make a profit. This tiny Southern Maryland publication reported the recent murders in Annapolis under the headlines “Triple Dip of Death” and “Lead Flew. Six Hit. Three Dead.”

In his remarks, Moore denied the truth of DeSantis’ claim and added that cynical politicking won’t address the real problems that cause gun violence in cities like Baltimore and, to a lesser extent, Annapolis.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Trust me, nobody wants to address violent crime more than the people that actually live in the community suffering from the violence,” the Democrat told the crowd of about 250 people. “Let’s come together on this. Let’s focus on the realities of violence instead of emphasizing the deficiencies in certain communities.”

Next week, it will be five years since the deadly assault on the Capital Gazette, a 135-year-old news organization where I worked for more than 30 years and led through six of its most tumultuous years.

So, I’d like to rephrase the question I asked after that horrendously violent moment on June 28, 2018.

It’s not, how do we prevent the next mass shooting? It’s how do we prevent the next shooting? Full stop.

I believe that is a question we can actually answer, community by community, with programs that address causes down the street and not across the nation.

Seven people have died by gunshot in Annapolis this year, three of them amid an early evening family gathering on June 11: Mario Mireles, 27; his father, Nicholas Mireles, 55; and a family friend, Christian Marlon Segovia, 25.

But there have been deaths in other parts of the county, too.

On Wednesday, Mayor Gavin Buckley and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced they were setting up pilot programs in Annapolis and Severn to resolve conflicts before they end with guns. The projects are in cooperation with Cure Violence Global, an international nonprofit that approaches gun violence from the vantage point of public health.

“We are working to raise awareness, support conflict resolution, and connect residents to services and resources, including employment and educational opportunities,” Buckley said.

Under Pittman, Anne Arundel has become a leader on this issue. Joined by allies on the County Council and in public health, he set up a task force to gather information on gun violence and recommend local solutions. One result is that the county is one of the few in the nation requiring gun and ammunition shops to display suicide prevention literature, addressing the leading cause of gun deaths.

I know the answer to ending gun violence now.

It is not some grand strategy out of Washington — although a renewed new ban on assault-style weapons, universal background checks and lifting immunity from lawsuits for gun makers would help.

It is to be found when individual communities stand up for themselves and decide that it’s on them to change.

rick.hutzell@thebaltimorebanner.com

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and we're we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom. 

More From The Banner