On a recent Monday, this column included a brief note that began, "The Metropolitan Police Department had a busy weekend and noted that, as usual, illegal drugs were involved in most crimes of violence."
On one night alone, police blamed drug involvement for six shootings, three stabbings, two beatings, three rapes and uncounted minor disturbances. I wondered how we had gotten into such a mess and how we could get out of it.
W. Haward Hunt of Beltsville responded: "I admire your stand on many issues, but not on government gun control. Your ideal would be wonderful if it were only practical.
"We have strong federal, state and city laws about drugs, but what good does it do? We once had Prohibition, and it resulted in the era of the gangster, the speakeasy and bathtub gin.
"In my opinion, there is not the slightest hope of gun control laws being any more effective than either the drug laws or Prohibition.
"In fact, former Chief of Police Wilson stated that D.C. had adequate gun control laws if only the courts would enforce them. He cited one case of a man who was out on 14 bonds -- some money, some personal -- before killing on the 15th holdup. He was never brought to trail on any of the previous 14 uses of a gun.
"It seems to me that you should devote your energy and talents toward reform of our ridiculous legal system. Our courts are more friendly to criminals than they are to the police who arrest them. Our judges apologize to convicted felons because the law makes a term in jail mandatory.
"Even the Supreme Court bends over backward to protect the 'poor, mistreated' criminal.
"Our revolving-door courts need drastic overhauling, and a lot of judges should be given the exit door with a healthy boot in the rear."
I don't need to be pordded into campaigning for court reform. I have been writing about illogical court practices for decades -- all the way back to the barbaric meting out of routine sentences of "$25 or 30 days" for such offenses as "disorderly conduct." The manual laborer who didn't have $25 went to jail while his wife and children scrounged for something to eat. The fellow with money peeled off $25 and went his merry way.
I have lived long enough to see small improvements in our court system, but I see no evidence that the system will improve enough to merit a rating of "good" in this decade or even the next.
It is easy to understand why people are critical of a legal system that permits endless delays and enables criminals to commit 14 more crimes before they're tried for the first one.
However, there would be basis for being even more critical if our courts failed to protect the rights of every person accused of a crime. I think we must take care not to let our impatience with crime and ineffective courts goad us into unfair criticism of court practices that guarantee fair treatment for every citizen.
I don't know what portion of my views about guns irked Haward Hunt, but I suspect he is not fully aware of my postion. I am not an idealistic dreamer. I am (I hope) a practical, skeptical -- even cynical -- realist.
My position is that we should try to limit handgun ownership (not all gun ownership, but handgun ownership) to those who can offer evidence of stability, probity and proficiency in the use of the weapon. It would be absurd to ban all handguns because only the honest man would turn in the gun he keeps to defend his home; the criminal would keep his gun and would have access to additional black market weapons in quantities limited only by his supply of cash.
I see nothing idealistic or impractical about my position on "gun control." I think all we can reasonably do is regulate the sale of handguns more closely than we now do, register guns and owners, and bar ownership to those who have been convicted of crimes of violence or have a record of mental or psychological disorders. If there is something idealistically impractical in this position, please tell me what it is and I will try to rethink the problem with whatever common sense I can muster.
Meanwhile, Hunt's commentary on our courts remains central to all the problems caused by drugs, guns and antisocial behavior.
What good does it do to pass laws or enforce laws when judges seal themselves off from the realities of urban life?