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Rid our society of the killers, not the weapons

The column "Let's rid our streets of assault weapons" (Opinion * Commentary, Jan. 30) made many salient points about the expiration of the assault weapons ban - all of which point to the fallacy of the ban in the first place.

The very fact that the law had a built-in "sunset" clause points out that the ban was simply a matter of trial and error - mostly error when it comes to gun control. Laws that target the tools used by criminals instead of the criminals themselves have the effect of penalizing law-abiding citizens and wasting resources that should have been put to use against criminals.

The Bushmaster XM-15 mentioned in the column is a rifle. Period. It is a popular choice among sportsmen who target shoot at rifle ranges. The fact that criminals chose to use it to terrorize an entire region is beside the point.

Would people have felt any safer had the two criminals used a single-shot muzzleloader?

And the phrase "assault weapon" itself makes one curious. Any weapon - knife, baseball bat, tire iron, etc. - can be used to assault another individual. The problem with the assault weapons ban, as with most other laws pertaining to firearms, is who determines which weapons should be banned? This week it's an Uzi, next week it's the bolt-action rifle in the back of your closet that your grandfather taught you to hunt deer with.

I contend the real weapons of mass destruction in Baltimore, as in other places, are walking on two legs, not locked in a secure gun cabinet. Programs such as Project Exile have proved effective because they target criminals, not simply the tools they use.

The sensible and desirable goal should be to rid our civilization of mass murderers. As we have seen, the tools they use are not always the ones we assume they will choose.

Steve Ruark


Costly Medicare plan does little for seniors

How can anybody be surprised at the $130 billion increase in the estimated cost of prescription drug benefits and other changes to the Medicare program ("Medicare bill price tag grows in Bush budget," Jan. 30)?

The projected government expenditures over 10 years have leaped from $400 billion to $530 billion, while President Bush and the Republicans in Congress count their campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.

When Congress voted to subsidize prescription drug purchases by Medicare beneficiaries, it failed to provide any method for controlling drug prices. The legislation specifically prohibits the government from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies.

And when the drug plan becomes fully effective in 2006, seniors and disabled citizens will quickly learn that it will not help them much, if at all.

Raymond S. Gill


Bush budget betrays conservative ideals

The article "Bush sets $2.3 trillion budget" (Feb. 1) presents a dismal picture of this administration's radical policy of tax-cutting while overspending.

Might it be possible for true conservatives to find a real Republican, a leader with strength of character and a solid grasp of economics, to compete with President Bush to become the Republican candidate in November?

Louise S. MacDonald


Cheney and Scalia clueless on conflict

Even more astonishing than the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would go duck hunting together, even after the brouhaha over the 2000 presidential election, is the fact that neither of them seems to think that he did anything wrong ("Justice compromised," Opinion * Commentary," Feb. 2).

Nancy Spies


Schools are 'bridge' to a brighter future

As I read the article "School funding request weighed" (Jan. 31) and others that present arguments against taking the steps necessary to fully fund public education as mandated in the Bridge to Excellence program, I wonder whether our elected officials have considered what a bridge really is.

A bridge is a means to an end. In this case, the end could well include decreased spending for programs that address the needs of citizens who didn't have a good education that led to a job and all that means to the community - from added tax revenues to less demand on community services.

Citizens who understand the value of this bridge must focus our legislators on the results we can expect once the bridge is in place.

Ann McNell


Md. lawyers donate their time and money

If you just read the headlines, you might believe Maryland's lawyers did little to help the poor get free legal services ("Md. lawyers fall short in free help for poor," Jan. 24). To an objective observer, the results of the first survey of all Maryland lawyers for 2002 reveal quite a different conclusion.

Maryland lawyers providing pro bono services donated nearly 1.4 million hours directly to the poor (955,615 hours) or to organizations helping the poor (406,477 hours). In addition, lawyers donated $2.2 million in cash to legal services organizations.

The U.S. Department of Labor just released a report indicating that 28.8 percent of all Americans volunteered time to help their communities in 2003 (up from 27.4 percent in 2002). By contrast, 48.8 percent of Maryland's lawyers reported providing voluntary free services.

This is the first time that the Maryland Court of Appeals has required lawyers to report their pro bono participation. The results are encouraging.

Harry S. Johnson


The writer is president of the Maryland State Bar Association.

Let parents decide whom teens can drive

Once again, the state is trying to usurp the prerogatives and responsibilities of parents ("State bill would ban teens from driving peers," Jan. 31).

I understand that new drivers shouldn't have other people in the car with them the first few times out. But it is a decision of the parent, not the state, as to when a teen-ager is ready to transport other people.

Some kids are ready after driving for a month, some are never ready. But to arbitrarily say that after this amount of time you can have your buddies in the car is going to make the situation worse.

In the long run, it is the parents who need to take the responsibility and supervise what their teen-agers do. They shouldn't abrogate that right to the state.

Joe Greenbeck


Wolfowitz resembles the fanatics he scorns

Describing the suicide bombers who killed 56 Kurds Sunday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was quoted as saying the attackers "are about their own fanatical view of the world, and they will kill to try to advance it" ("Blasts kill at least 56 in Kurdish stronghold," Feb. 2).

Hmmm. If the shoe fits ...

Mark Benson


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