True Intent of Gun Rights

James P. Thomas (Nov. 28 Letter to the Editor) would make a better comedian than historian. His defense of private ownership of handguns and his Hitler analogy are laughable in their inaccuracy.

There is no constitutional right for private gun possession. None of the arguments surrounding the drafting and ratification of the Articles of Confederation and, later, the Constitution were made to guarantee to citizens the right to own and use guns. This was not the Framers' intent based on the historical record. The NRA has opportunistically misread the Second Amendment to negate the overriding influence of state militias in the 18th century.

A predecessor to the Second Amendment is found in the Articles of Confederation at Article VI: "Every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage." (Emphasis added.)

Based on probate records from the time, not more than one household in 10 owned a gun, so the general defense depended on the state-supported militia.

The military context of the Second Amendment is clear from James Madison's draft: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person."

Congress eventually strengthened the military context by placing the second clause as the preamble to the Amendment. "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." The eminent historian Garry Wills writes, "History, philology, and logic furnish no solid basis for thinking the Second Amendment has anything to do with the private ownership of guns."

It's one thing to erroneously perpetuate an idea that was never contemplated in its original form, but to compound it by fabricating absurd similarities is just too much. The rise of Hitler and nationalism in Nazi Germany have their antecedents in history, culture and the Treaty of Versailles. Gun registration as an element in this development is too far-fetched to warrant serious discussion.

DEAN SCHLEICHER

Owings

Defending Trash Station

I sometimes agree with some of the statements and articles written by a former county commissioner candidate in St. Mary's County, but I have to respond to a letter he wrote that was titled "Trash Station Not Needed." [Letters, Nov. 21].

He writes: "The primary benefactors of the proposed Charlotte Hall solid waste facility would be Charles and Calvert counties, not St. Mary's County. If they want it, let it be built in Hughesville." (Hughesville is in Charles County, just across the border separating St. Mary's and Charles counties).

Several years ago, when Calvert County was negotiating for a solid waste transfer station contract, I heard from a reliable source that St. Mary's County declined to become a partner in the enterprise. Calvert County had already built an expensive, modern solid waste landfill that was being used, but our commissioners wisely decided that it would be better to save the landfill and sign a contract to have our solid waste trucked to Virginia. Currently, residents and nonresidents of Calvert County may deliver trash to our transfer station. We make a dollar and 50 cents profit per ton no matter who delivers it to us. That money helps with the cost of providing the total service. But if something should change, or if for some reason we need to rely heavily on our own landfill for disposal, then we can't guarantee that we will continue to allow St. Mary's trash to be delivered to Calvert for the same tipping fee that is paid today. It would be better for St. Mary's County commissioners to plan ahead for their future needs, rather than to rely too heavily on Calvert County's solid waste transfer station.

The former commissioner candidate writes that the St. Mary's County commissioners are "money-hungry." If the gentleman is ever elected as a commissioner, he will get to experience what it's like to have to provide sufficient money to meet the citizens' needs. Santa Claus doesn't deliver the tax revenue needed to build and operate the schools and libraries, pay the police officers and build the jails, buy the firetrucks, repair and build the roads, build the parks and recreational facilities, and many other services that citizens need. County commissioners are the ones chosen to decide who will pay, and how much they pay. There are many difficult decisions and it's not an easy job. Maybe someday the gentleman from California, Md., will get an opportunity to know what it's like to be in their shoes.

JOHN DOUGLAS PARRAN

Calvert County commissioner

Prince Frederick

St. Mary's Board's Bad Year

Dec. 7 marks the first anniversary of the new St. Mary's Board of County Commissioners. What they have accomplished in their first year in office can best be described as nothing more than politics-as-usual. Consider the following of their actions.

Even before taking office, they created a "transition team" that was the beginning of an ongoing, unethical relationship between this board and local special interests groups, primarily land developers and builders. Clearly, campaign finance contributions have bought certain people special access and influence with this board.

Next, they filled a vacancy on the school board, replacing Julie Randall, using a selection process that completely excluded any public participation. Do you remember their campaign promises of always involving citizens to the maximum extent possible?

At the very beginning of their term they attempted to cease the practice of holding monthly public forums, but under public pressure continued to do so. However, their format for the public forums has generally restricted public comment to very limited subjects rather than being entirely open forums. Do you remember their campaign promises that they would openly listen to citizens?

Then, they blatantly violated the St. Mary's County Open Meetings Act by holding a department head meeting in executive (closed) session. Perhaps you remember that the state's attorney said that these new county commissioners should be excused this violation because they were suffering from "spinning and reeling heads," which has since proven to be a chronic condition. This violation was the beginning of a continuing pattern of excessively conducting public business behind closed doors. Their attitude and actions demonstrate a general disdain for both the spirit and the letter of the Open Meetings Act. Additionally, they have done absolutely nothing to lessen arbitrary restrictions on the public's access to county government information. Do you remember their campaign promises about having an "open" government?

At a time of record-high tax receipts and a budget surplus, they increased property taxes $1.2 million by permitting higher valuation assessments--the equivalent of a six-cent increase in the property tax rate--and they imposed a new local tax on hotels and motels. They have increased government spending and borrowing at a reckless rate. They have expended almost all of the county government's borrowing limit. Now, they are proposing an "environmental fee" (tax) to pay for trash disposal, a service that is already being paid for by existing taxes. Furthermore, they have squandered public money in sweetheart, politically connected land deals with two local land developers. By every definition, these are "tax and spend" politicians. Do you remember their campaign promises of being fiscally conservative and holding the line on spending and taxes?

They ignored the overwhelming will of the people in the selection of a new Lexington Park library site, choosing instead a site that served the interests of a land developer. Do you remember their campaign promises that they would not ignore citizen volunteers and advisers?

Most recently, the county commissioner president's behind-the-scenes relationship with an ad hoc committee of builders and land developers was publicly exposed. The term "good old boys" should now be considered to be gender neutral.

Do you remember the 1998 Democratic Party campaign slogan, "Choose A Leader, Select A Team, and Shape the Future"? After only one year it appears that voters foolishly chose a self-described "leader" and selected a "team" of county commissioners whose purpose is to shape the future for political and special interests, not public interests. There can be little doubt that the "Y2K Bug" in St. Mary's County's future for the next three years is this board of county commissioners.

VERNON GRAY

California

Editor's note: The writer was a candidate in last year's Republican primary for county commissioner in District 4.

The Hazards of Local Travel

Southern Maryland is a terrific place to live and to raise a family. We have an abundant mixture of historical significance and progressive achievement. We are known in our area for being hard-working, caring, professional people. Moreover, Southern Maryland heritage makes us a proud generation of citizens.

We have growing needs in our communities. With a drastically increasing population, we have citizen issues that need to be addressed by our officials. Traffic in Southern Maryland is becoming equivalent to Northern Virginia. Pedestrian safety is not being addressed. We need traffic crossing lights. All major intersections in Southern Maryland need walk/do not walk lighting. The children in our area are dodging vehicles--in an attempt to reach destinations--we need to help them to safety. Additionally, wheelchair dependent neighbors have no wheelchair walkways to get them to/from facilities.

The presumption seems to be that they can all afford an expensive vehicle with wheelchair access, but as victims--many times of automobile accidents--they have exhausted finances and cannot afford those disability vehicles. They take their lives in their hands daily to fulfill social and physical needs by driving their wheelchairs on highways! We need to do more than put in ramps they cannot get to safely.

Southern Maryland has bicyclists. A couple of neighborhoods have excellent riding paths. Lighting would improve the existing paths and future ones alike. The existing bike paths do not go anywhere of significance though, and, in essence, they are designed for the bicycle enthusiast alone. With avid bicyclists covering high mileage, they do not offer enough paths. While the intention was a good one, it proves little research went into their creation. If a bicyclist, who uses it as transportation, desires to reach the mall, there is no connecting bike path. The mall has many bike racks so we have bike racks but we cannot get to them safely. Environmentally, commuters using bicycles should be congratulated. Instead, they are forgotten.

We have too many intersection panhandlers--they are quickly becoming a commuter's nightmare. With the fear that one afternoon one of them will be the victim of automobile injury, we wonder why this "illegal" activity is not enforced as such. Very small children are on our busiest intersections, along with panhandlers, as ploys to collect money. This is a travesty. Realizing the collection efforts are most often well intended still does not downplay this mechanism of fund-raising. Let us outlaw if before we all experience an accident we could have prevented.

DONNA L. QUESINBERRY

Waldorf

In Traffic, It All Adds Up

Perhaps Mr. [Jim] Spisak ["It Doesn't Add Up," Letters, Nov. 21] would like a tour of the area. I would be pleased to show him the problem on the ground rather than from an armchair view.

First of all, Route 261 is a three-lane road north of the bridge to Route 260 and is only two lanes south of Gordon Stinnett Avenue. This is one of the reasons that the evening rush is more problematic than the morning. Continuing that third lane across the bridge and through the intersection of 261, Mears and Harbor roads would mean a stacking lane for left turns into the shopping center and would allow additional through movements on each change of the light--automatically giving less backup on the road and greater volume throughout.

Secondly, with regard to boat trips under the bridge, there are 187 slips in Fishing Creek Landings Marina (all usable), about 80 usable at Abners Marina, and let's not forget Howlin Chesapeake Beach Charters, Vic's and Reynolds--each of which has at least four or five currently in use. That's about 287 or 300 by my count on the ground, even excluding those that may be questionable at Howlin's. Add to that the six ramps that launch an average of 70 or more boats on a busy day and often as many as 130. Add in the fact that many of the boats that are chartered and the commercial crabbers often make two runs a day and factor in the fact that any boat that goes out has to come back in and you easily get 400 on a summer Saturday; some peak days are even higher. Perhaps Mr. Spisak would like to stand on the bridge the first Saturday of rockfish season next April and do an actual count from 4 a.m. until about 10 p.m. I firmly believe he will have seen 400 before midday.

Traffic is judged by its peak demand, whether when looking at an intersection for its need for a light or any other bottleneck. It is the peak demand that can make a traffic artery fail. Even the busiest traffic artery seldom fails at 2 a.m.

If Mr. Spisak wants the facts, I'll gladly show him the facts. I've done the counts that he says are inaccurate. I'll be glad to compare my notes with his. Better yet, Jim, get involved. Call me and volunteer to be on the committee so you can have all the facts and help make decisions and recommendations. It will probably cost you several nights a month and two or three afternoons over the next several years, but then you will be a part of what goes on. Abraham Lincoln said it best: "He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help." My fifth-grade civics teacher added, "An informed electorate makes for a working democracy."

DAVID H. SISSON, chairman

Traffic/Highway Study Committee

Chesapeake Beach

Counterclaims on the EACC

So, the EACC (teachers union), not the free market, is responsible for setting salaries in Charles County. How naive of some to believe!

How, then, does one explain that Calvert County, which does not have the "benefits" of an "education association," has salaries higher than Charles?

And how telling that the EACC takes credit for so much, yet consistently ducks responsibility for MSPAP scores ranking 17 of 24 in the state!

JEROME MARTIN

La Plata

Flexible on School Funding

The article "Calvert Schools Press for Additional Funds" [Extra, Nov. 21] contained a statement that may need clarification.

It said: "Calvert County commissioners have decided to limit any school budget increase next year to less than $2 million in additional county dollars, a goal school officials have called unrealistic."

The words "decided to limit" may give readers the idea that this board of county commissioners may not be flexible on school funding. That remains to be seen. The sentence also said that school officials considered it the commissioners' goal. They're right, we voted to make it our goal and it is a goal, but subject to change. This county commissioner will work together with school officials to meet the needs of our increasing student population.

JOHN DOUGLAS PARRAN

Calvert County commissioner

Prince Frederick

Oyster Festival Gratitude

Recently the 33rd Annual St. Mary's County Oyster Festival was held at the Leonardtown Fairgrounds here in St. Mary's County. The purpose of the festival (organized by the Lexington Park Rotary Club since 1967) is to celebrate the treasures of the Chesapeake, while supporting a variety of long-standing charities. The festival also provides a wonderful opportunity to come out, visit with old friends, sample Southern Maryland specialties and enjoy the entertainment provided by some of St. Mary's County's best performers.

While it is impossible to thank each individual who helped, the Lexington Park Rotary Club would like to express its appreciation to all the people and organizations who have contributed to the success and popularity of the festival with their hard work, generosity and support. Every year our out-of-town guests can't say enough about the warm hospitality extended to them.

This year we are especially grateful to our major corporate sponsor, Information Spectrum Inc., and our event sponsors, the Boeing Co., Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Eagan McAllister Associates Inc., G&H Jewelers, Sign Designs and the Printing Press. Their generosity helps the many participating civic and charitable groups as they work to build our community and make it a wonderful place for the families of St. Mary's County.

DAVID TAYLOR

Festival Administrator

Leonardtown

Value of Calvert Schools

The Calvert County commissioners are truly doing this county a disservice with the head-in-the-sand approach they are taking toward the Board of Education budget requests. I can hardly believe that they can think that anything requested is not truly necessary. Dr. [James] Hook's requests are not "too much, too soon," but too little, almost too late. For years I have felt that we were not addressing the educational needs of the county in the budget requests. However, each year the commissioners have drastically chopped even those meager requests. I challenge the commissioners to get out to the schools and to the voters on this issue. We already have one of the worst if not the worst total teaching load in the state. Our schools are ridiculously under-supplied and maintained in comparison to the rest of Maryland's schools. The new schools, which have been largely funded by the state, are inadequate before they are even finished. No wonder we have difficulty hiring new teachers and keeping experienced teachers.

Despite the lack of support from our commissioners, we do have excellent schools, due to the supportive parents, the hard-working teachers and the excellent leadership from the Board of Education. It is amazing what we have accomplished despite the wall of disrespect we seem to get from our commissioners. It is the commissioners' duty to the taxpayers and residents to keep our schools from becoming the laughingstock of the state. Perhaps this set of commissioners do not value education on the same level that the Calvert County voters do. Even so, since Board of Education funding is one of the largest items in the county budget, I would have expected them to be more aware of the state of the county's schools. Not only do the commissioners need to see our needs, but they need to see how other county governments support their school systems.

[I am a] parent, teacher and 30-year county resident.

JANET B. TRAVERS

Owings