Columns Magazine THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE


Letters to the Editor

December 2000

Cover of September 2000 Columns

Cover of September 2000 Columns

Standards in Decline

I read with interest your article titled "Fatal Choices" [Sept. 2000] and I was very disappointed because there was no reference to acceptable standards of society. It seems that we have lost all reference to what is an acceptable standard of performance in how we deal with the happenings of everyday life.

We all know that there was no acceptable reason for the deaths. ... I am amazed that neither [UW Police Chief] Vicky Peltzer nor Law Professor John Junker even mentioned anything about minimum acceptable personal performance in our society today. I grew up carrying a gun but it was never to be used for anything but to kill a dangerous animal. In other words, it was not for my protection except if I was under attack and was being fired at by an enemy.

Guns are not for our protection from being robbed or attacked unless by an armed enemy. That is the reason for the second amendment to our Constitution. A human life is more important and more valuable than any amount of money or property!

... I fought a war to protect our freedoms and our way of life and now our minimum standards are worse than those of our enemies in World War II. I was also wounded in the process and now I wonder if it was really worth it, when people can get a permit to carry a concealed weapon because they are afraid they might lose a few dollars. If you shoot at someone that is unarmed and kill them, that should be manslaughter and you should be put in prison for at least 25 to 30 years.

Lt. Col. Theodore O. Wright (Ret.), '43, Bellevue

Get Rid of Guns?

I was shocked to read the article about the three deaths at the UW ["Fatal Choices," Sept. 2000]. Everyone is missing the point. We have to get rid of guns. No one should carry concealed weapons. No one should be allowed to buy guns without a mental health evaluation. I attended the Million Mom March against gun violence in Los Angeles. When is this country going to get the point? Guns kill; not just suicides but innocent people. Why can't we be like England? We are supposed to be a civilized society but our gun deaths are higher than any other nation of similar economic status. What are we going to do about this?

Laura J. Seed, '84, Huntington Beach, Calif.

Editor's Note: For an update on the incidents reported in "Fatal Choices," see Milestones in this issue.

Another View of Gun Laws

Laura J. Seed makes some assertions which should not go unchallenged.

"No one should carry concealed weapons." really means: No law abiding person should carry concealed weapons. The record of 31 states with liberal carry laws (Washington a very early example) utterly refutes such a proposal.

A mental health evaluation to buy guns? Perhaps a better focus would be upon the purchases of bicycles, which result in a higher number of fatal child accidents.

Do we really want to be like England, whose crime rates now surpass the U.S.? Gun deaths in the U.S. among the population of urban minorities are indeed tragically high, but the rates among other groups are comparable to "civilized societies." Total suicide rates are lower than many.

Seed should investigate the modern research and scholarship in this area before prescribing for the rest of us. I suggest www.2ndlawlib.org as an excellent source of the peer-review literature.

Jon D. Berg, Freeland

Ban Docs and Cars Too?

In the December 2000 Columns there is a letter with the heading "Get Rid of Guns?" Should we get rid of M.D.s and cars too?

The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 280, No. 16 reports, "It is estimated that 180,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical mistakes." However, we all realize that M.D.s really save many lives due to their other efforts, so naturally we won't get rid of doctors.

In 1998 there were about 43,000 people killed in motor vehicle violence in the United States. Should we get rid of cars and trucks? Of course not, we all realize that this type of transportation saves many lives.

In 1997 there were 32,436 killed by being shot by others or by shooting themselves. Should we get rid of guns? Of course not, as we should all realize that guns really save many lives. As evidence of this, in 1997, Gary Kleck, professor of criminology at Florida State University, reported his research showing that law-abiding Americans use guns 2.5 million times a year in defense, most of the time without firing a shot. His research further shows that hundreds of thousands of rapes, murders, and other violent crimes are prevented every year by the action of these law-abiding citizens with guns. On the other hand, criminals use guns less than 500,000 times a year, so the good guys have more than a five to one advantage in gun use over the bad guys. Obviously, a gun is very good protection when a woman or man is attacked by an armed, or unarmed person.

What we all must remember is that a gun is just a tool. The user of the tool is the one that determines whether it is used for good or for evil.

Bob Langenbach, '65, '70, SeaTac

Why We Shouldn't Be Like England

Regarding the letter from Laura Seed concerning the recent shootings in or near the UW, she asks rhetorically, "Why can't we be like England?" In England and Australia, most privately owned guns were confiscated approximately three years ago. Since then, gun-related violence has increased because criminals will always obtain guns, if not from a gun store, then from their local friendly crack dealer via the black market. One crime that has greatly increased is "home invasion" where armed robbers "invade" homes because they no longer fear an armed homeowner.

In jurisdictions where concealed-carry laws exist, violent crime decreases, whereas the opposite occurs when guns are banned. Guns are often used in self-defense, most often without firing the weapon.

Please see the exhaustive statistical analysis of this subject by Dr. John Lott, More Guns, Less Crime. His conclusions have not been challenged by the "million-mom" types.

Please don't forget that we fought a war a couple hundred years ago so that we would not "be like England."

Donald R. Rogers, '58 Anchorage, Alaska

Confiscation of Guns Won't Work

The two lead-off "Letters to the Editor" in the Dec. 2000 Columns sparked my interest. The first was from a retired lieutenant colonel (service not identified) who wondered if his time spent in uniform "was really worth it, when people can get a permit to carry a concealed weapon because they are afraid they might lose a few dollars." The second writer was rather more blunt, stating that, in her opinion, "we have to get rid of guns."

Those who oppose the private ownership of firearms and the Second Amendment seem quite often to be unimpressed with either history or the best of current scholarship concerning private firearms ownership. And that's fine -- in a free republic, one is entitled to one's opinion and it needn't be based on anything more than a visceral response to uneven media stimuli or an understandable desire for a "kinder, gentler" world.

However, Lt. Col. Wright should be advised that thefts of "a few dollars" frequently lead to consequences far more serious and tragic than a trivial financial setback. For instance, I recall the story of a father whose daughter had been robbed and killed as part of a theft for "a few dollars." In the article, he spoke of his support for the "Three Strikes" law -- even for "minor thefts" -- after his research revealed how often these crimes turned vicious and deadly. In an increasingly brutal and lawless society, the "few dollars" canard doesn't square with reality. The way I see it, the victim murdered for $1.47 is just as dead as the one murdered for a thousand dollars.

Turning to Ms. Seed, I strongly disagree with her desire for confiscation of privately- and legally-owned firearms. It has been tried and, besides being unconstitutional (perhaps a minor annoyance to you, but a significant issue for me), it leads to disastrous results. The march to dictatorship has frequently begun with a disarming of the citizenry -- Nazi Germany is but one example. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter observed, "We are in danger of forgetting that the Bill of Rights reflects experience with police excesses. It is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom. It is easy to make light of insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy. It is too easy. History bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end."

Consider Australia, a more recent example of firearms confiscation. Following the insane actions of a single gunman in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in April 1996, anti-gun extremists successfully inaugurated a heavy-handed campaign against law-abiding Australian gun owners. As a result, Australians were faced with government-mandated confiscation and the resulting destruction of more than 640,000 hunting rifles and shotguns. Ah, but Australia is surely safer now, n'est-ce pas?

Non. As reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, life for the average Australian has decidedly not improved -- quite the contrary. For instance, in 1999, murder increased 20 percent, assault increased 2.1 percent, kidnapping/abduction increased 8.2 percent, and theft other than motor vehicle theft increased 8.3 percent. The percentage of murders attempted with firearms increased to a seven-year high. Not quite the utopia the confiscators promise.

But, you argue, that's just the Australians -- a rowdy bunch by any standard. As Ms. Seed asks, "Why can't we be like England?" (I have to smile just a bit at this plaintive query because, according to my history book, prior to 1776 we were, in fact, very much like England. But you may recall that a group of rebels who favored freedom above all changed that I using privately-owned firearms, it should be noted, giving rise to the Constitutional protection that we still enjoy today.)

Well, Ms. Seed, I don't think we really want to be "like England." Statistically, crime rates for robbery, assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft are higher in England (including Wales) than in the United States. And England now has twice as many homicides annually with firearms as it did before imposing its stringent, anti-gun laws. Yikes -- increasing crime and violence doesn't sound like an appealing trade for a loss of freedom and an increasingly intrusive government. Or am I just old fashioned?

Still, perhaps we are comparing apples with oranges. Other European countries are arguably a better comparison with England than the United States. Take Switzerland, for example. There, almost everyone is a member of the national defense force and is issued fully automatic rifles and ammunition -- which are kept at home in the event of national emergency. With all those high-powered weapons lying around, we would certainly be justified in concluding that the crime rate is sky-high, wouldn't we? Well, not exactly. It turns out that crimes with the guns are virtually nonexistent. Compare that to the situation in Italy, whose gun law, deemed "the most restrictive in Europe," results in a thousand firearm murders a year in her southern provinces alone, 30 times Switzerland's total. As these facts make clear, it isn't the legal ownership of firearms that is the problem.

Returning to our own shores, it turns out that what works in Switzerland works in the United States as well. Professor John R. Lott, Jr., and David B. Mustard, of the University of Chicago, have found that "Right to Carry" laws deter violent crimes with no increase in accidental deaths. They have calculated that, if those states without Right To Carry concealed gun provisions had put them into effect in 1992, the United States would sustain approximately

* 1,570 FEWER murders
* 4,177 FEWER rapes, and
* 60,000 FEWER aggravated assaults

EACH YEAR. The data reveal that, in states where concealed handgun laws went into effect in a county, murders fell by 8.5 percent and rapes and aggravated assaults fell by 5 and 7 percent. On average, "Right to Carry" states experience 26 percent less total violent crime, 20 percent less homicide, 2 percent less rape, 39 percent less robbery, and 22 percent less aggravated assault, compared to the rest of the U.S.

There is much more that could be said in support of the Second Amendment and enhancing rather than eradicating our precious freedoms as well as our personal safety and security. In closing, I offer two radical suggestions:

1. Hammer the lawbreaker who uses a firearm, not the law-abiding citizen who owns one for protection.

2. Anti-gun zealots like Lt. Col. Wright and Ms. Seed should put their money where there mouths are and lead by example. I suggest they create small "gun-free" zones on their persons and in their homes -- and advertise this fact widely. They should begin by wearing large, flashy buttons clearly announcing that they carry no weapons. This will, no doubt, deter a great deal of crime. Further, they should post numerous signs around their homes, making it clear to one and all that there are no weapons (and especially no firearms) within. Criminals will, without doubt, be most impressed.

Major Steven T. Holste, '76, '81, '95; U. S. Marine Corps Reserve; El Cajon, Calif.

PR Effort to Cloak Real World Conditions

The shootings addressed in the "Fatal Choices" article are tragic and senseless. As sad as those most recent shootings are, your article does not mention three other senseless shootings in the University District over the last year and a half (mostly drug related). Additionally, increasing illegal activities are routinely occurring in the University District caused by UW students and street residents. Both your "Fatal Choices" article and the March 2000 "Breaking Down the Walls" articles truly idealize the environment and overestimate the safety and well being of UW students off campus.

More than two and a half years ago, as a result of significantly increasing safety issues in the University District neighborhood ranging from street crimes to student "party houses," city officials were requested to intercede. As a result, the former Seattle police chief organized and hosted a community meeting to address the issues. Chief Stamper and representatives from the city attorney's office, dept. of construction and land use, fire dept., dept. of neighborhoods and more than 200 concerned and vocal residents attended the meeting. Proposed city ordinance code modifications (still pending) and various North Precinct Seattle Police procedures were modified to help meet the stated problems. Through it all, the University was and continues to be a silent entity. As a community, we have come to expect that if something is an off campus student problem, the UW does not have (nor do they appear to accept) any responsibility to try and administratively control the illegal off campus behavior.

Extensive attempts to get President McCormick to recognize the serious off campus problems which include illegal alcohol consumption and alcohol related activities have fallen on deaf ears. At President McCormick's level, if a community related issue does not include donations for the UW, the topic is below his threshold of interest. Why he addresses his interest in the "generic" community in many of his Columns (and other) articles can only be a facade, as his true neighboring community next door to campus appears to be a non-entity from his threshold perspective. All off campus student issues that our community has brought to his attention have been passed to the UW vice president for student affairs. He has elected to establish a clear "line of demarcation" between on and off campus student issues. As a result, he appears to gladly state it is an off campus issue (as if displaying his badge of courage) whenever the subject of student off campus illegal activity is raised. The UW says it can't (or in reality won't) deal with these problems, therefore they fall to the county, city and other local organizations. What does not make sense is why the UW concern for the safety, health and well-being of its students only exists on campus?

The illegal off campus student activities range from underage drinking (often binge drinking which is not illegal by itself), illegal keg parties to include 100-200 students at a single family residence, boom box level noise in the late evening and early morning hours, damage to nearby neighbors' properties and vehicles, group street marauding, and party brawls to include at least on known instance of gun wielding and threatened use. The UW Student Affairs Office and their legal beagles refuse, it appears, to notice the positive, aggressive steps to curb and control off campus student illegal behavior taken by other universities such as Puget Sound, Virginia and Penn State.

As a University Park resident for five years, I have had my eyes opened by the UW's complete lack of active interest, true concern and involvement in dealing with student off campus safety and illegal activities in a very real potentially dangerous environment. This past summer, for the first time, I personally felt unsafe during daylight hours on the University Ave. The many young and increased number of older street people and drug dealing to include drug dealers and their pit bull fighting dogs was a real shocker.

Comments in the "Fatal Choices" article by respected UW professors reflect book smart knowledge. The surrounding University District community must accept what really occurs on the streets and it can be frightening. Much like the Columns "Breaking Down the Walls" article, this article reflects one side of the situation--please look to the residential community leaders for reality input for your readers. This should not be a public relations effort to cloak and undermine real world conditions and on-going issues that can affect the safety and well-being of the students and the community.

In my case, University Park, located several blocks north of the UW and south of Ravenna Park, is a single family designated residential neighborhood just like Laurelhurst, Magnolia, Ballard and other residential neighborhoods in Seattle. Frequently, various uneducated city officials, absentee landlords and off campus UW students voice their "It's the U District," and "What do you expect?" when we request enforcement of the city codes and laws. Given that house prices in our neighborhood range from $400K to over $1 million and a steadily increasing number of families with young children are moving to this neighborhood, I don't think allowing students their considered "right of passage" at our expense is the right answer.

Frequently, I see a UW official downplay alcohol use by UW students as if to say there is no problem at the UW. As an example, a UW student affairs representative responded to a UW Daily student newspaper article on college drinking, writing that at the UW the average student that drinks, "only drinks on average 3.6 drinks" when the collegewide binge drinking average is considered 4 drinks. From this are we to believe there is no UW student binge or other drinking problems? Just ask the UW Medical Center concerning student alcohol poisoning incidents and University Park residents if you want the real world answer. As unfortunate and unsafe as this drinking is, UW student activities off campus are frequently beyond the norm of what can be tolerated in any residential neighborhood. When will the UW hierarchy refrain from myopic/tunnel vision in their approach to student off campus activities and work with local University District residential representatives and local officials to establish a people-friendly accountable environment?

Even 43rd District State Representative Ed. Murray, when presented with the facts, has taken steps to make the UW and other state universities and their students accountable for off campus illegal activities. Rep. Murray and at least four other state representatives, from higher education districts, have written legislation which requires state universities to establish a program to review and administer administrative oversight (reprimand, probation, termination) for police-cited off campus illegal activities. Due to I-695 initiative passage, Rep. Murray's legislation remains pending as state budget efforts took precedence during the most recent state legislature proceedings.

In short, all is not well concerning UW student health and safety off campus. Steps are being taken to try and rectify selected areas but an important key element to reducing off campus illegal student activities is President McCormick and the UW administration. While much more could be said, the true advocate for the UW studentUs health and safety rests with the UW. While I can hear the Denny bells, it is the only positive aspect and commitment by the UW that reaches off campus and into the residential community. UW neighboring communities are treated as second class citizens by the UW hierarchy. Notwithstanding the tragedy of the shootings in your article, the article is clearly a matter of reader (parents, alumni, donors and communities) misinformation which insults all of us.

Douglas K. Wills, Jr., '64, Seattle

Jacobinic Political Correctness

So, a writer in a Daily supplement had the audacity to poke fun at the UW's diversity efforts. The usual campus suspects reacted with the usual wretched excess ["Parody...Draws Fire," Sept. 2000]. "Protesters burned copies of the newspaper" publicly; the UW Board of Student Publications killed future funding of the supplement; the supplement editor resigned and apologized (under what duress, we were not told); "the UW Alumni Association's Executive Committee ... strongly condemned the article" (rah, rah); and Board of Regents President William H. Gates and UW President Richard L. McCormick (none of this Voltaire nonsense from these boys) came down on the side of public burners and attacked the article with salvos of sanctimonious name-calling and special pleading.

Just where did that supplement writer think she was—in some citadel of intellectual freedom? She was on the UW campus, where a Jacobinic political correctness appears to have transformed the institution into an Orwellian anti-academy, and where, one feels certain, many members of the UW community are every bit as, if not more, fearfully circumspect about expressing unfashionable opinions as their counterparts were back in the shameful days of Canwell and McCarthy—bad old days so often roundly, not to mention moralistically, deplored in these pages.

Byron Melvin, '62, Seattle

Questioning Recruitment

In reading the "Briefings" and the article entitled "Parody Distributed in the Daily Draws Fire", I noted that preferential recruitment of minority freshmen continues at the University. Apparently, funds were spent on expenses, including 13,000 letters to minority students, sending faculty and staff to certain high schools, and developing a special Web site and recruitment video. Are these funds coming from taxpayers who decided that Initiative 200 should be law? The impact of the initiative didn't hurt freshman applications, which increased 1,091 over the previous year and if enforced, provide equitable and fair competition to all students seeking higher education.

John Johanson, '51, Port Orchard

Editor's Note: While Initiative 200 dismantled affirmative action in college admissions, it had no legal impact on recruitment efforts at state institutions.

A Modest Proposal: Ban Satire

I was encouraged to read in "Parody Distributed in the Daily Draws Fire" that President Richard L. McCormick, Board of Regents President William H. Gates and other UW guardians of right thinking have condemned a student's misguided effort to satirically mock racist and homophobic attitudes. In this age of enlightenment and diversity, we cannot endure and must not tolerate notions that, in the discerning words of Dr. McCormick, "are antithetical to the purposes for which the University exists," even if those notions should, ironically, support those of the University itself! I would propose that the University go one modest step further; ban satire as a reactionary literary form inimical to the higher moral and intellectual orthodoxy of the great open minds of our time.

Jack Merry, '72, Gig Harbor

Births in Context

Irene Svete's September Columns article, "Special Delivery," was interesting but deserves to be placed in more context. In 1998, the infant mortality rate for Washington state was 5.7 per 1,000 live births. For Oregon it was 5.4 per 1,000 live births. King County's was 5.0. This compares with the world's best (Japan at 4.4) and is about 20 percent of what it was three or four decades ago. Moreover, about 40 percent of our infant deaths occur during the post-neonatal period (more than a month after birth, often from SIDS, accidents and homicides.) We can certainly improve obstetrical care, but in the process of raising questions, we should also appreciate what has been achieved.

Max Bader, '61, Lake Oswego, Ore.

Vouching for Vouchers

I agree with Rudy Crew's view that public education is on the brink of "having the lights turned off permanently," ["Follow the Leader," Sept. 2000] but am disappointed with his opposition of voucher programs. Vouchers, charter schools and home schooling can be the "change agents" to power the U.S. to the number one position in K-12 learning. It is not only a matter of class size and more research; it's a matter of parental choice. The energy will continue to dissipate on one of our government's last monopolies unless parents are given more control of their children's educational tax money. We can choose the college or university to attend, why not K-12? Competition may be frightening for school boards and teacher unions, but competition makes the UW stand among the nation's top universities. Complete rewiring of the current K-12 system is required to survive the frantically changing world. UW educational leaders need to convince our state government to support alternatives. As Rudy implies, there's not much time left.

Mark Reeves, '78, Renton

An Oasis under Occupation

It's been 30 years since students occupied the KUOW studios, ["Radio Days," Sept. 2000] but I can still clearly remember the anguish I felt as one of many faithful listeners to the station. KUOW was an oasis on the radio dial. On what was probably a modest budget, the staff and management broadcast good music, talks by visiting academics, programs of book reviews, science, and recorded curiosities, to name a few. There was no advertising. To hear this replaced abruptly by teeny-bopper music, herbal medicine advice and unfocused announcers was quite unsettling. I marveled at the restraint shown by station manager Ken Kager and staff as the days passed. The occupation reminded me of the harassment of the University faculty by the Canwell Committee years earlier. As your article notes, the affair ended peacefully. I have since wondered why the activists didn't choose to take over one of the 50,000-watt commercial stations downtown.

Christian Melgard, '46, Seattle

UW in Good Hands

I am writing to thank you for your articles in the last two issues of Columns on [President Richard L.] McCormick and UW Bothell. ... Before I read your article, I knew little about McCormick (just that his Ph.D. is from Yale). Your article was very informative and now that I know that he often works far into the night and worries much about the UW, I am better satisfied that the UW is in good hands.

Regarding UW Bothell, I am glad it survived and did not become Cascadia State College. With its location it should be able to draw students from Bellevue, Redmond, etc. And the architecture is impressive. But I am a humanist (in comparative literature) and the UW is one of the greatest art schools in the country. Branch campuses (and distance education programs) are rather depressing because nearly everybody in them seems to major in ... business and computer science.

Paul J. Green, '58, Pullman

Correction

In our September announcement of the UW women's crew victory at Henley Royal Regatta, Columns left out Coxswain Mary Whipple in the caption identifying team members. Whipple is in the center of the photograph, wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Also in our article on winners of alumni awards, "Multicultural Alumni Group Honors Seven," we credited the wrong bar association with starting a minority law student scholarship fund. The correct organization is the King County Bar Association.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited. Please include a daytime phone number.

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