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The city of Baltimore has had an especially violent year. It has one of the nation's toughest gun laws, yet has logged more than 200 homicides. Nearly all of the victims have been black. Members of one of the few African-American social gun clubs in the nation have a unique approach to firearms. They believe teaching young people different ideas about guns might help deter them from a life of violence. The Maryland Tenth Calvary Gun Club focuses as much on discipline and black history as it does on shooting. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.
KEN BROWN: The line is safe. The line is safe. You can now safely handle your firearms.
ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Ken Brown is a big man, and the Ruger Mark III 22 caliber long rifle semi-automatic pistol he's loading at an outdoor gun range looks almost tiny in his hands.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
KEYES: He's hoping the things he teaches and practices at the range where the Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club shoots are something he can pass on to young people in a larger context.
BROWN: See, the whole shooting discipline, in and of itself, is behaving responsibly. And that's what we hope to give to our youth. Behaving responsibly can be a lot of fun.
KEYES: The club is based near Baltimore and Marriottsville, Maryland. It has 163 members and takes its name from the ninth and 10th Army Horse Calvary, an African-American regiment known as Buffalo Soldiers. Brown says the club proudly focuses on teaching people about what he calls the deep history of blacks and firearms. One of his favorite examples is Salem Poor, a Massachusetts slave who bought his freedom in 1769 and fought at Bunker Hill in 1775.
BROWN: He fought at Saratoga, Monmouth, New Jersey.
KEYES: Brown thinks knowledge like this about history will help steer kids away from drugs and gangs.
BROWN: We have something that'll give them a stake in this country.
COURTNEY WHITE-BROWN: So, you know, I opened it and there it was.
KEYES: Club member Courtney White-Brown is talking about her wedding present from her husband.
WHITE-BROWN: It was a LadySmith revolver 357/38.
KEYES: White-Brown owns a firearms and security training academy. She believes young people thinking of heading into the drug trade or gangs could be preempted by learning that there is honor and responsibility in the association of African-Americans and guns.
WHITE-BROWN: It also gives you an opportunity for education, scholarship activity.
KEYES: She says teaching them the discipline of using firearms also gives them a skill that can take them away from a life of crime.
WHITE-BROWN: If these young people would learn properly safe gun handling, and the proper way to use their firearms, then they would not be swayed or persuaded by the negative element.
DEWEY CORNELL: We know that some kinds of mentoring programs are effective.
KEYES: That's clinical psychologist and University of Virginia education professor, Dewey Cornell. As director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project, he agrees mentoring can be helpful. But in an age where people with firearms training have committed mass shootings, Cornell says groups that want to help young people should look to wider range programs that are evidence-based.
CORNELL: It's much more important to have a relationship and to be dealing with the other problems in a young person's life, which sometimes require more than mentoring; if there are mental health issues, if there are gang issues, if there are family issues.
KEYES: Back at the Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club, Ken Brown admits there are some problems, such as working with young people who have already committed felonies, that the club isn't equipped to deal with. But fellow club member Larry Smith, a retired Social Security worker, says, as members of a community being decimated by violence, there's a special calling to get involved.
LARRY SMITH: It's up to us as African-Americans to address these issues.
KEYES: Like some other club members, Smith grew up hunting.
SMITH: So I know that black people can be around guns and not shoot each other.
KEYES: Smith says the African-American community needs to develop a healthy respect for guns, and he hopes that will lower the level of violence. Allison Keyes, NPR News.
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