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Reader Feedback 2.12.03 

Guns down, crime up?

I enjoyed Jack Bradigan Spula's "Crime: The Means and the Ends" (January 15). Whether I find myself agreeing or disagreeing with the positions he takes in his essays, I always find them thought-provoking and well worth reading.

                  I thoroughly agree with his rejection of overly simplistic international comparisons of gun crime rates. As he indicated, there are far too many legal, cultural, and historical variables. Perhaps it would be better to observe crime trends in the same country before and after gun control laws are either strengthened or weakened. You mentioned how Australia "responded appropriately" after a gun massacre. And what was that response, and its results?

                  Australia confiscated 640,381 firearms at a cost of $500 million. (That could buy a lot of school lunches.) One year later, what were the results? Australia-wide: homicide, up 3.2 percent; assaults, up 8 percent; armed robberies up 44 percent. And this jump comes on the heels of 25 years of decreases in armed-robbery rates.

                  In Victoria, gun homicides were up 300 percent. What else could have caused these figures to change in one year, if not the gun-control laws?

                  England has seen a sharp rise in crime since practically banning the private ownership of long guns --- particularly in home invasions.

                  I have yet to hear a gun-control advocate's explanation for this unprecedented jump, but would sincerely like to. Could someone please explain to me how these confiscation programs are supposed to work? Are murderers and drug dealers supposed to say, "Oh shucky-darn; now I have to go to the police station and turn in my unregistered pistol?"

                  Criminals, by definition, break the law. What type of people turn in their firearms? Only law-abiding legal possessors, who aren't the people who commit the crimes. And when they do that, does it not assure the social predators that they will be able to continue their activities with even greater chance of success and safety? Seems like a common-sense explanation for what happened in Australia and England.

                  How do the 20,000 gun-control laws currently on the books stop criminals, who circumvent them all when they obtain their weapons illegally? Does it not only prevent law-abiding citizens from being able to choose to defend themselves?

                  I'm not trying to be a smart-aleck here, I genuinely want to hear what the gun control advocates have to say. Maybe you can set me straight!

                  Keep up the great articles.

                  John LeDoux, Scottsville Road, Scottsville

Jack Bradigan Spula contrasts the gun/crime rates in England and the US but neglects a few relevant facts. Currently, the rate of break-ins for occupied homes in even "nice" neighborhoods in the UK is nearly one-third. It is rough if you are the occupant of that flat. In many parts of the US, even dumb crooks avoid occupied homes, since they fear the homeowner with a shotgun.

                  Spula would likely prefer permits for all firearms despite the fact that permit systems are inherently unequal. The defenders of the Warsaw Ghetto used a rare flintlock since they, as Jews, could not legally own firearms. (I personally know the son of an Auschwitz survivor who has a Remington shotgun at his rural cabin because the local police are nearly 40 minutes away.) In Indiana, a widow in a rough neighborhood was denied a pistol permit by her local police force because she was felt to be "white trash."

                  (Canandian news sources report that the nation's new mandatory licensing program for all firearms may have a $1 billion cost overrun. This will continue, supporters say, regardless of the opposition of two provincial governments and senior police officials, who admit that criminals hardly ever register their guns.)

                  Spula is like Rosie O'Donnell, who wants to outlaw firearms for others but needs an armed bodyguard because she is a celebrity. The message is simple: The lives and families of ordinary people are worth %$* (expletive deleted).

                  Mr. Spula generally champions people seen as downtrodden. I guess the $400 license fee in Nassau County for a pistol permit doesn't bother him. Can't have those lower orders thinking they have worthwhile lives, can we? I would add that many legal scholars regard the Second Amendment as a guarantee of First Amendment rights.

                  Mark N. Russell, Howland Avenue, Rochester

                  Jack Bradigan Spula responds: Thanks to LeDoux for the kind words. Unfortunately, the compliments bookend some dubious material, including data identical to what's found in a probable "urban legend."

                  Gun Control Australia spokesperson Randy Marshall calls this legend "the infamous 'Hi Yanks' memo," though it sometimes is addressed "Hi Yanks and Canucks." It's signed by supposed Australian police officer Ed Chenel; my searches failed to turn up anything on him. Some of the statistics are off: Take the $500 million allocation. First, that was in Australian dollars, so the outlay was something like $340 million at the current exchange rate. A report last fall in The Australian (Sydney) pegged the final cost at $320 million.

                  And it was money well spent. Gun Control Australia, using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, says that between 1988 and 1998, total annual gun deaths declined significantly, though admittedly with some ups and down early on. There was a big drop between 1996, the year the buyout began, and 1998 --- from 521 gun deaths to 327. The biggest factor was the decline in gun suicides, but gun homicides also dropped. Officials say the real payback will be realized over many years.

                  I'm not sure where Russell got his factoid about the UK's break-in rate of "nearly one-third." The UK Home Office pegged the overall household burglary in England and Wales at 3.4 percent in 2000. Households with income under £5,000 --- definitely downscale --- had a burglary rate of 4.3 percent; the rate for "areas with high levels of physical disorder" had a rate of 7.9 percent. Presumably the "nice" neighborhoods fared better.

                  About Canada's new legislation: Though rightwing opposition is building, there's no "$1 billion cost overrun." Last December, Ottawa's auditor general said total costs could climb to $1 billion Canadian (around $650 million US), offset by $140 million Canadian returned through registration fees. Originally the program was to have cost $119 million, with $117 million back through fees. Yes, there's an overrun, but at most it amounts to half of what Russell suggested. And again, it will be money well spent.

                  The case against O'Donnell is not proved. Stories clogged the usual internet gun-sites after O'Donnell's bodyguard (hired to protect one of her kids, incidentally) applied for a concealed-weapon permit. O'Donnell said later she wouldn't have an armed guard around the child. But it's important to remember why she hired a guard in the first place: because of threats she received after criticizing the gun culture post-Columbine, and taking on NRA booster Tom Selleck. And oh yes, the homophobes --- among them many gun patriots, armed and dangerous --- hate her guts too.

The board's divide

"The Great Divide: Behind the School Board Anger" (January 8) is an interesting, and for the most part accurate, analysis of the escalating madness that's occurring among Rochester Board of Education members. However, the article contains some statements that merit close scrutiny.

                  For example, if national trends are indicators, the ongoing, deep-seated dysfunction on the board will not necessarily make it harder to attract a new superintendent. This is not the first time the Rochester district, like many other urban school districts, has had to hire a new superintendent in the middle of a leadership crisis. The Rochester district hired a nationally known superintendent, Dr. Laval Wilson, under very similar conditions.

                  Besides, let's be honest: Considering the enticing salary and perks that come with the job, there are plenty of acceptable candidates who won't hesitate to lay their credentials on the table.

                  Working under adverse circumstances has long been routine for many urban superintendents. Additionally, such individuals usually do their homework. Candidates will know it's likely that the new superintendent will have a school board substantially different than the current one.

                  Second: In the article, board member Joanne Giuffrida says board members "have to all be careful that the board is not emasculated again." That implies that someone deprived the board of power. Unless they willingly coalesce, how can anyone take the bosses' power away?

                  Over the past few years, this is exactly what happened. All of the board members sat back silently and allowed Superintendent Clifford Janey --- initially under the advisement of Mayor Johnson (before Janey stopped listening to the mayor) --- to pretty much run the district, with little to no oversight, and certainly no public opposition. In short, board members got caught up in the anti-micromanagement frenzy, and abdicated their responsibilities.

                  Third, regarding the board's "access to information and the media": This is not something that is newly acquired. Board members have always had access to the media. If some board members are now "willing to speak up about things," that's probably a matter of political expediency, desperation, and perhaps revenge.

                  Lastly, "public discussion on the future of the school district" is not dependent on current board members' ability to get past their "personal animosity." Those of us seeking to replace them, along with a number of formidable community advocates and leaders, intend to make sure of that. The deepening leadership crisis dictates that serious, open, community-wide discussion relative to the future of the Rochester school district must take place, and it will.

                  Howard Eagle, Rochester (Eagle is a candidate for the Rochester School Board.)

Gay Nicholas?

Ever since Jon Popick has been included in City as a reviewer of movies alongside the incomparable George Grella, I have tried to accept cheerfully his presentations, despite the irrelevancies he often includes. But in his recent review of Nicholas Nickleby (January 8), one simply cannot forgive the tainting of a wonderful story, exquisitely told, by Popick's unwarranted rant in which he pretends to perceive the injection of a gay theme where none exists and which no one of sane and balanced mind would see. Whatever his personal motivations, Popick's remarks were fraudulent and therefore unjust to all viewers of this great film, gays and straights alike.

                  John Gerard, Culver Parkway, Rochester

                  Jon Popick's response: While Mr. Gerard and I both agree it was a great film, there's absolutely no way anybody who has seen Nicholas Nickleby can deny that the film contains some pretty major gay undertones. Or maybe they were just napping during those scenes, like the ones involving Nathan Lane's character being married to a woman played by a man, or those depicting the obvious and immediate attraction between Nicholas and Smike. The campy Nickleby made a typical episode of Oz look like the Republican National Convention.

                  Then again, a large percentage of the country was actually surprised when Rosie O'Donnell came out of the closet, so it's probably wrong to assume everyone has the necessary "gaydar" to pick up on that kind of thing (they're the same group who think Liberace died a bachelor because he never found the right girl to marry).

A people denied

The Israeli government is guilty of the destruction of the Palestinian Arab people. Using financial and military help from the US, the present government of Israel is devoted to making it impossible for any viable Palestinian state to come into existence.

                  The Prime Minister of Israel is a war criminal who should be brought before the International Tribunal at the Hague. I do not condone the killing of innocent people by anyone, be they Arabs or Israeli Jews. But I see on a daily basis Israel's attempt to deny the Palestinian Arabs any possible chance for a normal life.

                  Anyone who thinks I am anti-Semitic should know that I come from a family of strong Jewish values, and my feelings spring from my deep sense of Jewish ethics, which I will believe in to my last breath.

                  Concerning Iraq: Iraq is not a threat to the United States. The United States is wrong to try to shape the world in its perceived image. The US wants the oil of Iraq. The US government should hold its head in shame for not helping solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an honest and non-partisan manner.

                  The greatest way to stop terror is to have a just foreign policy.

                  Jack Disraeli, Norris Drive, Rochester

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