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Teens, Guns Are More Violent Mix in Pittsburgh Than the Figures Show

June 10, 1992

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Paul Perry isn’t packing a pistol yet, but the beating of his roommate and gunfire in the night have changed his way of thinking.

The soft-spoken art student said he will arm himself next fall when he returns to Pittsburgh, which - although part of an area ranked as the nation’s safest for black teen-agers like Perry - is becoming more dangerous.

″My gun’s going to be readily available - somewhere I can reach it quickly,″ said Perry, 19, a Harrisburg native and freshman at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

The government’s National Center for Health Statistics found that gunfire was the most common cause of death for black males ages 15 to 19, claiming about 1,000 such victims a year.

Black youths were less likely to die from gunfire in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, than in 79 other counties in major metropolitan areas ranked by the center.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, covered the years 1987, 1988 and 1989.

Overall, the firearms homicide rate for black teen-age males was 143.9 per 100,000 people, compared with 21.5 per 100,000 for white teen-age males.

The deadliest place for black males ages 15 through 19 was the District of Columbia, with a firearms homicide rate of 227.2. In the middle - No. 40 - was Oklahoma County, Okla., with a rate of 67.7. Allegheny County’s rate was zero.

In the past 2 1/2 years, however, 12 black teens were shot to death in Allegheny County, compared with one in the three years before that, said County Coroner Joshua Perper.

″The study is just an outdated photograph of how things were, not a movie of how they are today,″ he said Tuesday. ″The potential for homicide is increasing.″

Perper and others said that when drugs moved in to neighborhoods, guns followed.

″With the crack dealers and turf gangs in evidence now, the youths are getting bolder,″ said Stan Rideout, security director for Pittsburgh’s public schools.

In one of those neighborhoods, the North Side, Shawn Coachman, a self- described reformed drug dealer and recovering addict, said drug couriers carry more firepower than ever - and are willing to use it.

″Seven or eight years ago, you were a punk if you went home to get a gun for a fight. It was unheard of,″ said Coachman, 29. ″You had to fight for yourselves, use your hands. The kids are out to prove themselves now, and they’ll shoot you down.″

Coachman said he quit dealing because he was afraid of dying.

″I’m older now,″ he said. ″I know better.″

A few blocks away, as white roommate Kevin Zambach shot baskets on a playground, art student Perry talked about the gunfire he hears in a park one or two nights a week.

″I was at a party, and this short guy comes in and takes off his coat and there’s a 9-millimeter under his arm - just like that. And he’s just walking around like everything’s normal,″ Perry said.

Zambach said he stays indoors nights since he was beaten by a group of blacks after trying to join a basketball game - ″right after Rodney King.″ Meanwhile, Perry plans to replace the knife he carries everywhere with a gun.

Asked what he will buy, he said, ″Something small, maybe a .25.″

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