Forum: July-August 2001


Gun Reactions


Thank you for the thoughtful and balanced article “The Culture of the Gun [March-April 2001].” As a mother of two boys living in a town that treats two to three persons every week for gunshot wounds and loses at least two persons every month from gun trauma, I found Robert Bliwise’s reporting of the complexity in solving the problem of gun violence especially relevant.

Professor Philip Cook’s comment that gun violence “is everybody’s problem” is woefully correct. One result of our gun culture and the politics it spawns is that parents remain unable to ensure that one of their children’s most basic needs—safety—is met. There are three guns for every child in the U.S.; ten kids are fatally shot every day. The number of children injured by firearms, largely handgun injuries, is ten times greater than the number of polio victims during the first half of the twentieth century. American children under the age of fifteen are dying form gunfire at a rate almost twelve times higher than in twenty-five other industrialized countries combined. This is a shameful distinction. Our children need protection from the misuse, easy accessibility, and poor design of too many of the approximately 200 million firearms in this country.

I encourage Duke moms and dads to follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and remove guns from your home as “the most effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents.” And before you send your child to someone’s house (playmate, relative, neighbor, sitter), please ask if they have a gun in the home. You have good reason to ask—40 percent of homes with children have a gun and most are stored improperly.

It is time that our public policies reflect the truth that most civilian gun deaths in the U.S. tend to be the result of family fights, accidents, and suicide. Only one percent (316) of the 30,708 reported firearm deaths in 1998 were justifiable homicides by private citizens.

On Mothers Day 2000, the Million Mom March attracted to the Washington Mall over 750,000 people calling for the prevention of gun death and injury. Today there are over 200 local and regional chapters across the country that may be contacted through the organization’s website, I invite you to join and make your voice heard for sensible gun policy. The Million Mom March has been endorsed by Duke President Nannerl Keohane and scores of others who recognize that this organization offers a unique opportunity to say clearly to our policymakers, “Guns do kill and too many people are dying. We will not be silent to this suffering and loss.”
Marcia Owen ’78, Durham, North Carolina


I read with interest the article on guns in the last issue of Duke Magazine. I cannot imagine how Mr. Merrill comes to the conclusion that his experience as a police officer in the line of duty with a violent suspect equates to the average citizen’s need to be armed. If there are any lessons from his experience, it is that he should have acted sooner to protect himself, but to conclude that the common citizen would be involved in the same situation is totally bogus.

I was also amazed at some of the conclusions drawn by Professor Van Alstyne. He seems to think that perhaps Mr. Madison, like a schoolboy having to write a one-hundred-word report, put the extra words about a well-regulated militia into the Second Amendment just to fill up space. The aversion to a standing army was part and parcel of eighteenth-century liberal political thought in which Mr. Madison and other authors of the Constitution were steeped. The early republic also had few dollars to spare on anything so luxurious as a standing army even if they had wanted one. The militia was a force the country could call upon (note, I did not say “rely upon,” as experience showed that they could not be relied upon) with little expense both for national defense and as a police. A uniformed police force came much later and the militia was needed to help calm the fears of many in the South of slave uprisings. It had nothing to do with Bubba keeping an Uzi by his bedside.

I’m still searching for an example of “an army citizenry” keeping the government from doing what it wants. Shays Rebellion was a catalyst for writing the Constitution and George Washington certainly didn’t let the “armed citizenry” of Western Pennsylvania deter him during the Whiskey Rebellion.

The bottom line is that the country has evolved, the militia is no more—it was obsolete not long after the ink was dry, and the Second Amendment as worded is no longer applicable. The Constitution had provisions for slavery which are gone; the Second Amendment should go the same way.
Robert Roser ’68 , (via e-mail)


I appreciate Duke Magazine’s attempt to represent both sides of the gun issue in March-April 2001’s lead article, since political correctness has become an obsession at most academically elite universities.

The fact is, however, many more lives are saved than tragically lost by firearms possession and use, as first illustrated by your description of Patrick Merrill’s non-lethal brandishing of a handgun to protect his life and further documented by Professor Lott’s University of Chicago study. Even our own President Keohane required the use of force to protect her during last year’s handgun incident in the Allen Building.

No doubt the United States would be a better and safer nation if, magically, firearms were employed only for legitimate sporting purposes. Unfortunately, however, our society can no more easily revise history than we can “reinsert the toothpaste into the tube.” Guns in the possession of criminals pose a constant and grave danger to the law-abiding public. Furthermore, law enforcement—regardless of its dedication and vigilance—can neither eliminate crime nor guarantee the safety of the innocent. Therefore, individuals must seriously consider how they will provide reasonable self-protection. Under the best circumstances, police response times are measured in minutes, while death and serious injuries resulting from felons take only seconds to permanently and disastrously alter blameless lives.

I suspect even the more strident anti-firearms advocates would agree that every individual has the inherent right of self-defense. Since the government cannot and will not guarantee an individual’s safety, what reasonable and viable alternatives—other than responsible firearms ownership—do conscientious and prudent citizens have to help ensure their own security?

Obviously, gun ownership is a serious duty, which mandates firearms safety, security, training, and proficiency. However, self-protection certainly seems wise when the alternative—unpreparedness—places life itself in jeopardy.
Roy Kiefer M.B.A. ’78, (via e-mail)


 I was interested in Robert Bliwise’s story “The Culture of the Gun” but was sorry that he neglected to do much in the way of constitutional law research before he relied entirely on [Duke law professor William] Van Alstyne that the Second Amendment was “missing in action” in case law. That is not true.

The most relevant case law was before the U.S. Supreme Court. To quote from the Web page of the Legal Community Against Violence (a group of legal scholars and attorneys): “In U.S. v. Miller (1939), the United States Supreme Court stated that the ‘obvious purpose’ of the Second Amendment was ‘to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness’ of the state militia forces and ‘…must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.’

“Since Miller was decided, federal and state appellate courts have addressed the meaning of the Second Amendment in more than 100 cases. Without exception, these courts have rejected the view that the Second Amendment precludes federal, state, or local regulations of the manufacture, sale, and possession of guns.

“Although academic views differ regarding the precise intent of the Founding Fathers with respect to the Second Amendment, the leading scholars that have addressed the issue agree that the amendment plainly permits regulations.”

You will also find, if you dig deeper, that there was a draft second amendment that was not prefaced with the qualifier about “a well-regulated militia.” It was rejected in favor of the prefaced amendment.
Melissa McCullough M.E.M. ’83, (via e-mail)

Blue Notes


I thought you flat nailed your piece on championship night and the following day [“Civilized Celebration,” Special Insert, March-April 2001]. I haven’t enjoyed anything in weeks as much as I enjoyed reading that. I thought I ought to tell you so. I also told my many dozen old Duke friends on the e-discussion list we have.
Steven T. Corneliussen ’70, (via e-mail)


Just a great, great story that perfectly captured the context and meaning of Duke basketball. A delightful read. Thanks.
Sam George J.D. ’99, (via e-mail)


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