The newsroom where my friends were murdered is a coffee shop today.

When my kids were young, I held them on the patio where a Naval Academy mom was killed by a stray bullet years later.

I drive by a colorful mural honoring an Annapolis singer almost every day. He died in a drive-by shooting at the spot, a mistaken victim of someone’s rage.

Annapolis is a small town, and most days a safe one. But after years of calling it home, the lives lost continue to grow. It’s a geography of violence, a list of places where men, women and children have been killed by guns.

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On Sunday, I went for groceries at Whole Foods. There’s a decal on the sliding glass door, “No Guns.” As I stood there thinking about that, I was forced to nod to the newest ghosts haunting my landscape of death.

The hotel parking lot where George Huff shot and killed his wife, Alexandra Huff, and fatally wounded George Petrullo before killing himself is around the corner. Alltackle.com, the fishing gear boutique where he fled after being shot, is across the street.

Whenever there is another gun death, anyone with a soul asks what we could change, what we can do to stop this. I’ve been writing about gun violence from a personal perspective since 2018 when a man with a shotgun killed five people in the Capital Gazette newsroom where I worked as the editor.

Just like everyone else, I asked: What can we do?

Paul Gillespie survived that shooting. A respected photojournalist for the news organization, he was at Rise Up in Annapolis on May 5, the day of these latest deaths. It’s the coffee shop next to the Alltackle.com store, and despite his own trauma, he went to work.

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“There they were. Two people who were once alive, now dead,” he wrote on Twitter Monday. “I made pictures of the scene, shocked I was able to get as close as I did. There was nothing blocking them other than the white sheeting covering them. Later I’d see a hand coming out from under the sheet in some of my pix. It was disturbing. These were real people. It hit home.”

Most people move on with their lives after the latest victims are counted in ones, twos and threes. When the numbers reach five and then 10, it’s harder to unruffle the jangled sense of danger from their feathers and get on with life.

Not everyone can. But most do. I do.

Cluck cluck. Thoughts and prayers.

I agree with Ben Cardin, the Democratic senator from Maryland who pointed out the problem after the latest mass shooting in Texas.

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“It’s. The. Guns.” he wrote on Twitter.

Yes. The guns. Now what?

Police will tell you that guns change the equation in every human reaction. George Huff legally owned the handgun he used to kill two people. He bought it more than a decade back.

With a gun, a neighborhood dispute becomes a cause for killing. A newspaper column becomes a blood feud when you buy a 12-gauge Mossberg from Impactguns.com and pick it up at the Bass Pro Shops in Hanover.

There is no way to know just how many guns are in this country. The Trace, the nonprofit newsroom that covers gun violence better than anyone else, tried to come up with a number in March.

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“We’ve heard for years that there are more guns in the U.S. than people, but a precise accounting remains elusive,” staff writer Jennifer Mascia wrote. “Federal legislation that would track gun sales or establish a nationwide handgun registry has been proposed — to much resistance from the gun lobby. In lieu of exact figures, we have gun owner surveys, industry disclosures, and federal gun background check figures, none of which are comprehensive.”

Everyone who wants a gun can get one. Even if we knew how many guns are out there, there is no clawing them back.

Can you imagine a constitutional convention where we erase the Second Amendment right to bear arms? Neither can I. It is just as likely we’d end up eliminating my First Amendment protections to write about guns or the 14th Amendment right to citizenship by birth.

The solutions we have aren’t enough. Anne Arundel County uses Maryland’s red flag law to take guns from people who are a threat more than any other jurisdiction in Maryland. It has the most robust crisis response network in the state, maybe the country. There is evidence this has changed the calculus of suicide, the most common form of gun violence.

Bang bang. It didn’t stop George Huff.

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Sometimes, in my darkest funk, I wonder if gun advocates are right. If a good man with a SIG Sauer P320 is the only answer to a bad man with an AR-15. Maybe we all should just arm ourselves.

Some teachers already do. One was arrested last month at Seven Oaks Elementary when police said she left a loaded handgun in the car she parked in the school lot. The principal of the Phoenix Academy in Annapolis was arrested in Baltimore after he pulled his gun during a bad date, according to police.

Maybe we should make gun ownership a requirement, not a right. A Glock for you, and a Bushmaster for me.

A Walther PPQ 22 M2 5 inch for kids, an ATI GSG Firefly 4.9 inch for septuagenarians, a Springfield Hellcat RDP for moms and a Remington 700 for dads. Gun companies market these guns in exactly this way already.

Bang bang. I’m starting to lose hope.

Was Mike Rounds right when he told CNN we’ve run out of solutions?

“There isn’t anybody here that, if they could find the right approach, wouldn’t try to do something because they feel that pain,” the Republican senator from South Dakota said in March. “And yet, when we start talking about bans or challenging on the Second Amendment, I think the things that have already been done have gone about as far as we’re going to with gun control.”

Or is he just a coward?

Five hours after the Huffs’ marriage ended in gunfire, the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America sent me an email.

“It is sickening to know that nowhere is safe from senseless acts of gun violence — we must stop treating conflicts with bullets,” wrote Melissa Ladd, a volunteer with the gun violence group. ”Our thoughts are with the families of those who were killed in this tragic shooting and we hope that leaders at all levels will continue to prioritize common-sense gun safety laws because we know that more guns, in more places, does not make us safer.”

What, I asked, does Moms Demand have in mind for a state with some of the toughest gun violence laws in the nation? What can we do? They had no answer.

The map of violent death touches down in Annapolis again and again, sometimes looping back over the same territory.

Between 2012 and last year, Orlando McDaniel, Mark Cooper, Terry Bosley, Michael Covert and Shakeo Williams were all shot to death near the same intersection in Eastport.

I don’t always think of them when I drive by, but I should. We all should.

There’s a video floating around social media, one where actors play people at a bar who find themselves in the midst of a mass shooting. It’s an FBI training tool and offers strategies to survive in our age of gun death.

Run. Hide. Fight.

Wendi Winters fought. She was one of my friends five years ago in the newsroom in Annapolis. She charged the gunman in our newsroom with a wastepaper basket and a recycling bin. I was at the beach that day. Wendi died.

Bang bang. Run. Hide. Fight.

I never got any good responses to my question: What can we do?

Maybe, in the end, when the questions are exhausted, Fight is the only answer that matters.

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 where 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.

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