Last week, Toledo police confiscated a handgun from a 92-year-old woman after she nearly blew away a police officer because she was afraid he was a burglar trying to break into her home.
The incident highlights the potential for fatal mistakes when private citizens exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms. But police should return the weapon to its owner if she is not going to be charged with a crime.
Annie Huddleston's Indiana Avenue neighborhood is not the most dangerous part of the city. Residents of some blocks even describe it as quiet.
But other neighbors say gunshots are everyday occurrences, vacant and abandoned buildings invite criminal activity, and break-ins and robberies are common. They blame much of the problem on young people, nearly 2,500 of whom are said to belong to about 25 gangs.
This is the sort of neighborhood Mayor Mike Bell was talking about when he told inner-city gang members in April that elderly residents were "scared to open the door," and that people "fear living in our city." In 2011, 210 people were reported shot in the city, a 73 percent increase over 2010. "As a mayor," Mr. Bell said, "I cannot allow that to continue."
It takes time to turn tough talk into tough enforcement. It takes longer for criminals to get the message. Neighborhood residents have to help by telling police who and where the bad guys are.
Until Mayor Bell and Police Chief Derrick Diggs make good on the promise to "take our city back," residents of Toledo's mean streets are going to find other ways to protect themselves. For some people, that means owning a gun.
Ms. Huddleston has had at least two guns in her home. One was stolen in a 2006 break-in. The other -- a .357 Magnum -- nearly killed police Lt. Randy Pepitone as he responded to her 911 call reporting that she thought she heard a burglar.
She was afraid. She didn't respond to attempts by police to contact her. And when Lieutenant Pepitone tried to force his way into the home to check on her safety, she shot him. But if, as police concede, no crime was committed, then Ms. Huddleston must get her gun back.
That hasn't happened. Police can hold the weapon as long as the shooting is under investigation. Sometimes, investigations last for a long time.
A better solution would be to remove the reason people such as Ms. Huddleston own guns. According to the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, just 2 percent of Toledoans are responsible for 70 percent of violent crimes. Police say they solve most crimes with information provided by local residents.
Toledoans can take back their neighborhoods -- and keep police safe from gun-toting civilians -- by giving police information to help them make arrests. That takes courage, but it can be done.
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