WHEN WE talk about ways to deal with gun violence, it's crucial that we do not ignore the thugs who use the guns in the first place.

Somewhere along the line, we turned away from personal accountability and wandered into the world of holding inanimate objects responsible instead.

Every time a politician or elected official calls for tougher gun laws without an equally vocal call for stricter enforcement of the current law, we wander further into the land of no personal accountability. That land is an increasingly violent one.

The citizens of Baltimore can take heart, however. Newly elected Mayor Sheila Dixon gets it. "Attacking gun crime," Mayor Dixon said, "means cracking down on gun sales and arresting, prosecuting and putting in prison criminals who carry and use guns."

The "poverty" excuse must also be eliminated. There are millions of people in America living in poverty. The vast majority do not resort to a life of murder and mayhem. In fact, that majority are the primary victims of the violence. And yet those in power use "living in poverty" as an excuse for not holding violent predators accountable for their actions.

Instead of helping to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens, this attitude throws them to the wolves.

As chief of detectives in Philadelphia, I see the impact of this lack of accountability every day. Individuals who have been arrested 10, 20, 30 times or more are roaming the streets, preying on our citizens. Innocent lives are lost because there is a sense of lawlessness.

There is some truth to the "we can't arrest our way out of the problem" thinking.

We can't arrest our way out because we're arresting the same people over and over again. Until we stop the revolving door that leads to our criminal courtrooms, the carnage will continue.

Family values, education and jobs are critical to building a safer society. So is being held accountable for one's own actions.

Joseph Fox