Going Off Half-Cocked

Mary McGrory's column "Run Over by `the Truck' " [Outlook, June 20] misrepresented my position on the Mandatory Gun Show Background Check Act, a bill I authored, which was defeated in the House June 18. Her statement that I supported the Dingell amendment, which would have required gun show background checks be completed within 24 hours, is simply not true.

I voted against the Dingell amendment because it would not give law enforcement officials sufficient time to check whether potential gun buyers had felony arrest records. My bill would have given law enforcement 72 hours to do such checks, which strikes a balance between the need to ensure that firearms are kept out of the hands of criminals and the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.

When McGrory quoted me saying that a longer waiting period would mean the "death of the gun show," she took my comments out of context. I was expressing my concern that the McCarthy amendment, which I also voted against, was overreaching.

As chairman of the crime subcommittee, I support reasonable procedures to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of those who would harm our children and grandchildren. In her eagerness to cast me as part of the problem, McGrory failed to get the facts straight.

-- Bill McCollum

The writer is a U.S. representative (R-Fla.).

Aiming at Law-Abiders

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes: "A three-day waiting period at a gun show is not aimed at law-abiding gun owners and is not the first step to dictatorship. Why is it so hard to agree on at least that?" [op-ed, June 22].

The answer is because it is a false premise.

First, it is aimed at law-abiding gun owners. Ninety-nine percent of the purchases made at gun shows are by law-abiding citizens with malice toward none. You can claim the law is not aimed at them, but it is they who must deal with it.

Second, while it may not be the first step toward dictatorship, it is the first step toward the banning and confiscation of handguns, the stated intention of a number of organizations and several U.S. senators and representatives.

If anyone doubts the long-range power of creeping incrementalism, think back 15 years or so. Could anyone then have imagined that the anti-tobacco people would succeed to the point where one cannot even smoke in an open-air stadium such as Camden Yards? And consider the tobacco company lawsuits. Lawyers are not shy about using these as a guide for going after the gun manufacturers.

Registration and confiscation are the ultimate goals. People who own guns are clear about the fact that we want to keep them. Will the anti-gun crowd at least be honest enough to admit they want to take them away?

-- Keith Vollero

Democrats for Dinner

Either Joel Achenbach or Kurt Vonnegut Jr. has his cannibals confused ["Hack Writer," Style, June 21]. Vonnegut and Achenbach attribute the crime of eating all the Democrats in the county to the Donner Party.

In 1847 when the Donners were slogging through the Sierra Nevadas, California wasn't yet even a state.

Vonnegut's quotation is associated with Alfred (or Alferd) Packer, namesake of the Alferd Packer Grill in the University of Colorado student union. Packer was accused of eating five men he was guiding through the mountains of Colorado in 1874. After nine years on the lam, he was charged with murder. Upon sentencing him to 40 years in prison, the judge is alleged to have said, "There weren't but seven Democrats in Hinsdale County, and you ate five of them."

In fact, this line appears nowhere in the judge's remarks, which, along with Alferd's whole story, can be found through the Colorado State Archives Web site. Packer was paroled in 1901 and died in 1907.

-- Susan Clyde

Artistic License

Recycling has gone too far when cans of Coca-Cola are shipped on "palettes," as your paper reported from Paris on June 16 [Business]. Presumably the artists of Europe no longer need their wooden boards with blobs of paint. It seems an odd way to create a shipping pallet, but no odder than the "bad" carbon dioxide that offended Belgian children and their . . . palates.

-- Richard Lobb

Periodic Update

I enjoy your Science Page, but I did notice a little error in the June 14 Science Notebook. Under the heading "Two Additions to Periodic Table," the writer states that uranium "contains 93 protons and 146 neutrons." Actually, a uranium atom has 92 protons; hence its atomic number of 92. A neptunium atom has 93 protons; hence its atomic number of 93. Also, uranium atoms don't all have 146 neutrons. Uranium has several isotopes, each of which has a different number of neutrons. The number of protons remains the same in the various isotopes.

-- Edward E. Chaney

Enormous Error

I have long suspected that your paper was no friend of free enterprise. This is now confirmed by your June 13 description of Hechinger's financial problems: "Hechinger's scale and ubiquity once did in many mom-and-pop operations, but the new wave of competition has taken enormity to a different level" [Metro, June 16].

My eighth-grade English teacher did not permit her pupils to confuse "enormity" and "enormousness."

-- Richard H. Howarth