Boston Herald

Margery Eagan/ Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014:

It’s young men and teenage boys who do nearly all the shooting and dying on the streets of Boston.

But more and more it’s young women and teenage girls who hold, hide and even buy the guns that enable such killing. Often they do it out of fear: of an abusive boyfriend, of a pimp who puts them on the street. Or they do it out of desperation: A drug dealer gives them more drugs, or money, for the guns.

That was the sobering message of yesterday’s packed Grove Hall meeting of LIPSTICK, or Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killing. It’s a grass-roots group hoping to educate girls and women who may not even consider that the gun they’re hiding has killed, perhaps many times over.

Here’s what happens. A teenage girl takes up with a boy who starts putting her down, then beating her, and then tells her she needs to hold his guns, said Aja Jackson, who saw this many times in the Boston apartment property she managed. And the girl’s afraid to say no. “They feel too threatened to speak up. Who’s going to protect them? When you go out and snitch on guns in the house everybody knows.” And a restraining order won’t help when a furious so-called boyfriend realizes his weapons are gone.

One mother said she and her son watched from their apartment window as four teenage girls got out of a car carrying bulging backpacks. They disappeared into the downstairs apartment, rented by a criminal wearing an ankle bracelet. Inside those backpacks? About 40 guns, the mother said, which gang members later showed off to potential recruits in an alley up the street. She said her son wanted her to see all this to convince her how easy it is to get guns. In their case, they live above a veritable arsenal.

“These girls are being exploited just as they are exploited in drug and sex trafficking,” said Kim Odom, who organized yesterday’s LIPSTICK meeting with Ruth Rollins. Odom lost her son Steven, 13, to gun violence in 2007. That same year Rollins’ son Warren Daniel Hairston, 21, was gunned down as well.

Rollins said criminals might recruit women to buy guns because they can’t pass background checks. One Ohio college student bought 25 guns — mostly 9 mm pistols — in two trips to a gun shop. Her apparent motive was just attention from the man who wanted them. But she was later arrested, lost her scholarship and spent two years in jail. “Fake love” was the term Rollins used about the tired but sadly effective line: “If you loved me you would do this.” Of course if he really loved you, he wouldn’t ask.

Halfway through yesterday’s training, a visibly upset woman got up and left the room. Rollins later explained that this woman’s son keeps guns in the house. She knows it. But he’s told her gangs are after him. With no weapon, he can’t protect himself. Rollins says she’s hardly the only mother she’s seen crushed by an impossible choice. She may want to get rid of the guns. But suppose her son is right? Suppose he’s shot dead, defenseless, on the street? How does a mother go on?