Saturday, September 22, 2007

Iowa City's "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms"

September 22, 2007, 4:20 p.m.; September 23, 2007, 4:30 p.m.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

Iowa City is currently dealing with issues of alcohol, tobacco and firearms. It's a combination we come by honestly with solid historic precedent.

It was 1789, during the very first Congress, that the first federal legislation taxing alcohol was enacted -- in one sense the beginning of today's ATF.
By 1863 three enforcement officers -- presumably armed -- were added to its ranks. (The agency had found that not all moonshiners were enthusiastic about paying taxes.) Once a part of the Treasury Department, in January 2003 the ATF was transferred to the Justice Department as a part of the creation of Homeland Security. Its full name is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Nor has there been a shortage of guns.

The ATF publishes an annual report of U.S. handgun manufacturing. The agency is either woefully shorthanded or overly pressured by secrecy advocates among gun lobbyists and White House personnel, because the last "annual" report is for 2004. (Its website expresses the hope that the 2005 report may be ready sometime this month -- "mid-September 2007.")

Anyhow, in 2004 there were essentially four firms that accounted for half of the 728,511 new pistols (Sturm Ruger, Arizona; Bryco Arms, California; Smith & Wesson, Massachusetts; Beretta, Maryland), and two that were the source of half of the 294,099 revolvers (Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson). Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report," 2004.

Firearms Beget Firearms

At the outset, let me repeat that my primary concern has been, not the ultimate decision regarding the arming (or not) of our campus police. It is the process by which we arrived at it. It was not, to borrow the line from Fox News, "fair and balanced." It was a presentation by advocates for arming, not an academic, analytical evaluation of the data. And such arguments as were made were not very persuasive, such as, "everybody else is doing it," and "but we're properly trained" -- neither of which address the central issue: Is there a genuine need for more weapons on the UI campus?

As Regent Rose Vasquez noted, "There was no situation that sort of rose up or elevated itself to a level that but for a gun, things would have been different."

Very little (if any) evidence and data have been offered to support the notion that even if campus police were armed that they would have many (if any) occasions to use guns, or otherwise put, that their being armed would actually prevent acts of violence that, but for their possessing guns, would otherwise have occurred. (Even less analysis was provided regarding exactly what it is campus police do; how student safety is allocated between them and City police; how the required numbers of both might be altered by exploring other options in the allocation of those responsibilities.)

But let's put that aside. Let's assume that they would have occasions to use them.

There seems to be at least some basis for concern that "guns beget guns;" that is to say, if someone is thinking about bringing a gun onto campus anyway they may well be more rather than less inclined to do so knowing that they may have occasion to deal with an armed campus police officer.

Here are three items that would seem to support that concern.

State29, who takes me to task for my position on the weapons issue, State29, "What Makes You So Special?" September 20, 2007, concludes, "Actually, I'm in favor of allowing students to conceal carry while on campus. That would freak out the ivory tower crowd even more, even though students having weapons available to them have saved lives."

Apparently at least a couple of UI students have already followed up on State29's suggestion. Kelsey Beltramea, "Some Live the 2nd Amendment; Two UI Students -- An Aspiring Police Officer and Former Marine -- are Both Licensed to Carry Concealed Weapons, and Support Arming UI Police," The Daily Iowan, September 18, 2007, p. 4A.

How many other students are licensed to "conceal carry"? How many more will be as a result of the campus police being armed? How many will carry guns even if they are not licensed to do so?

This morning's Press-Citizen has a Letter to the Editor suggesting that they all should. It reads in its entirety,

In response to your Sept. 15 story, "I can't walk home alone," I say, "You could if there was just one gun law: Everybody carries one."
Robert G. Dostal, "Carrying Guns Could Improve Safety," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 22, 2007, p. 16A.

When Bob Patton had his editorial cartoon depicting President Sally Mason announcing "I think we should give armed campus police a shot -- perhaps I need to rephrase that" a reader named "airship" posted the comment, "Great idea, but I'm concerned that it might not go far enough. After all, what are the odds that a campus security officer will be right there when an incident occurs? Just to be extra safe and secure, I think we should arm all the students, too. With automatic weapons. And grenades." September 20, 2007, 1:52 p.m.
There's a certain superficial logic to these positions.

This is an age in which we do more and more for ourselves. We used to have to rely on a telephone employee to place our long distance calls. Now we can "dial" even internationally ourselves. Instead of elevator operators, we press the buttons. Grocery store employees used to get our groceries for us and then "ring them up." Now we get, bar-code-scan, and process our own credit card payments for them. The "service stations" of old are now but a pump and a credit card reader. Bank tellers have been replaced by ATMs -- a deprivation for which we pay, for the privilege of operating them ourselves. Not only have these changes shifted costs from businesses to their customers, radically increasing unemployment while employing us at something well under even slave wages, but they have imbued us with a do-it-yourself sense of responsibility and possibility.

The enthusiasm that university administrators across the nation bring to giving their campus police more deadly weapons teaches as lesson even more forcefully than if it were taught in a classroom: Safety and security in our society (or within other countries) can best be provided through the use of deadly weapons.

That being the case, why not -- as with the other aspects of our lives formerly provided by institutions -- carry the weapons ourselves, rather than rely on the institutional police? It appears the idea is catching on in some quarters, thus further increasing the weaponry on campus beyond the guns provided campus police.

This can be just one more way in which we can contribute to economic growth, with the increased gun sales, especially if the manufacturers see the potential in the academic gun market and ultimately offer us Microsoft-like "academic discounts" through the University Bookstore outlets and Iowa Book.


Once again we have a wonderful Press-Citizen juxtapositioning of a very well researched and written Rachel Gallegos page-one story with a delightfully incisive Bob Patton editorial cartoon. Rachel Gallegos, "Proposal Concerns Downtown Leaders; Businesses Worry Limit Would Hurt Profits, Vibrant Downtown Life," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 22, 2007, p. A1.

(Unfortunately, the cartoon is not yet posted. It depicts two guys at a bar. One says, "I can't wait for Iowa City bars to go 21-only! This will be such a boon to my business!" To which the other inquires, "What are you, a bar owner?" and the first responds, "No, I run a fake I.D. mill!")

This whole thing would be hilarious if it weren't so serious -- what it's doing to young peoples' lives, the quality of downtown, the reputation of the city, the demands on (and costs to taxpayers of) the police.

"21-only." For starters, to call the proposal "21-only" is like naming an act of Congress that gives major campaign contributors the right to increase pollution "The Clean Air Act." Everybody gets to stay in the bars until 10:00 p.m. I don't know when these bars open in the mornings, but for at least 12 hours every day they're wide open.

I'm not going to get into the sleeping habits of undergraduates, and I'm certainly not going to advocate laws and regulations imposing curfews (although universities -- including Iowa -- certainly had them for fraternity and dorm residents years ago). And see the Gazette story, Alison Gowans, "It's the Law; Whether It's a City or Parental Curfew, Teens Know Time to be Home," The Gazette, September 23, 2007, p. L1.

But it does seem to me that leaving bars before 10:00 p.m. might be a good idea for those few undergraduates who are actually attending college for purposes of getting an education (if, indeed, they would be wanting to binge drink more than once a week in bars at all). By the time you get your things together and leave the bar, stand outside for some last minute visiting with friends and saying goodbye, walk to your residence, wind down and relax, get ready for bed, and actually fall asleep, 10:00 is about as late as you ought to be staying in bars anyway -- especially if you know the relationship between good health and mental alertness on the one hand and going to bed at the same time every night and regularly getting an adequate night's sleep on the other.

And even that's meaningless. As Patton's cartoon suggests, young college students tell me, national studies and polls report, and this morning's story repeats, what with fake IDs, half-hearted enforcement by bar owners (who operate with the inherent conflict of interest that the more willing they are to ignore the law the richer they become), and the ease with which underage patrons can order alcohol for themselves or have someone order for them, there are simply no meaningful restraints on under-age drinking in Iowa City.

As Jim Clayton, vice chairman of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission, and executive committee chairman of the Stepping Up Coalition is quoted in the story as saying, "They make money on that drink whether you drink it yourself, you give it to a friend or you stumble and spill it."

Prohibition??!! That anyone could characterize this profit-maximizing "compromise" as something "similar to Prohibition" is simply stunning. And yet the story quotes a local business person as saying just that.

Then comes, of course, the old canard from him: "Prohibition doesn't work -- never has never will."

(a) In point of fact, from a public health perspective the epidemiological data documents that Prohibition very effectively did work (in reducing alcohol-related illness and disease).

(b) Gallegos' story immediately continues to report that "Iowa City has a 69 percent binge drinking rate compared with the 42 percent binge drinking rate in Ames -- where there is a 21-and-over ordinance." So if "prohibition" seems to be working at another of the Iowa Regents' universities won't you please explain to me once again just why it is it won't work at the UI?

(c) A recent Gallup poll reports that during the 1940s the percentage of Americans who were regular smokers was in the low to mid-40% range. As recently as the late 1980s the percentages ranged from 31-38%. The percentage in July of this year (2007) was 21% -- the lowest ever recorded by the Gallup organization. There are of course many variables affecting these numbers, but clearly the "prohibition" of smoking in UI buildings -- along with thousands of other restaurants and buildings around the country -- has had its impact.
Besides, the "prohibition," such as it is, is already in the Iowa law. There is a legal "prohibition" on bars selling alcohol to anyone under 21 -- raising some question as to why the local bar owners (and their advocates on the City Council) are fearful of less revenue, since presumably they would assert they're not selling to under-age patrons now anyway -- either before or after 10:00 p.m.

Iowa City's version of "21-only" doesn't even go so far as to enforce the laws already on the books in a rational way -- as is done in Ames! It leaves open the opportunity bar owners have to sell as much alcohol to under-age drinkers as they can possibly get away with up until 10:00 p.m.!

And you call that "prohibition"??!! Give me a break.

Our "vibrant downtown life." Another argument put forward by those advocating continuing the violations of the "spirit" and letter of Iowa's liquor laws is that to comply with the law, discourage binge drinking, and minimize the illness, violence and sexual abuse that accompanies it, would interfere with the "vibrant downtown life" of Iowa City.

My dictionary offers many definitions of "vibrant" but vomiting, fist fights, falling-down drunk, and sexual assaults aren't among them.

Sailing to riches on a sea of beer. What was that old drinking song?

"75 million gallons of beer on the wall
75 million gallons of beer . . .."

That's how much beer was consumed in Iowa last year -- a good bit of it in Iowa City.

At 8 16-ounce-pint glasses per gallon, that's 600 million glasses, and . . . Oh, you can do the math. We're talking billions, not millions, of dollars.

Bar owners are making more money sailing on this sea of beer than Columbus ever made sailing on "the ocean blue."

So we're back once again to "revenue is needed." ("Once 'revenue is needed' is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions its moral compass begins to spin as if it was located on the North Pole." Nicholas Johnson, "UI Loves Gambling" in "UI Held Hostage Day 410 - March 7," March 7, 2007.) Although, in this instance, the revenue that is needed is coming from sales that are expressly in violation of Iowa law.

Change the law. State29 has what he thinks is a better idea: Just change the law to permit 18-year-olds to drink. State29, "The Publican Campaign," September 22, 2007.

The least one can say for such a proposal is that it would contribute to greater respect for the legal system generally -- a goal I have as a result of my legal training. Any law that is routinely violated, whatever the subject, only further erodes respect for all legal standards.

I have always held out the possible advantages of an "over-18" standard being substituted for the "over-21" -- though I would like to see the data, others' "best practices," and make sure that in our time and place (when and where alcohol abuse is not only rampant but thought "cute" as a rite and right of passage) that it really would be a safe and wise choice. Lowering the drinking age would at least remove the current attraction of "getting away with something; beating the system" as a reason for binge drinking.

I've actually proposed that we at least explore the possible advantages of going further: encourage parents to introduce children to alcohol European style (in very small quantities, or watered down), as a responsible, family-oriented, thing to do at meals. My guess (though I'd obviously want to base such a proposal on much more than a guess) is that it would go a long way to removing the association of binge drinking with rebelliousness (and, ironically, "maturity") in the minds of young college students.
Until we're able to get to more of the root causes of the UI's binge drinking problem, however, I'm not confident that telling bar owners and those too young to drink (according to Iowa law) that they are only free to violate the law before 10:00 p.m. is going to solve very much.

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Anonymous said...

Why can't we learn from history? The drinking is just a form of the failed policy prohibition. Drop it to 18. Alcoholics will be alcoholics. 20 years ago at UI, and 40 years ago at UI many of us drank fairly hard at times. Some did go on to be alcoholics, others went sober, and a great majority just matured and does a lot less drinking after one's mid 20's.

A lot of us 40 and over, especially the baby boomers should try to go back a little and remember what it was like to be 18-21. I especially dont see the point in putting things like this stuff on their records. Now we are arming what we used to call Campus Security. The Iowa City community has grown much, but don't confuse quality with quantity. A lot of the charm is going right out the door.

Anonymous said...

Throughout these debates, one principle holds: people pull crap out of their butts, and present this crap as facts or truth.

For instance, Barleykorn above says 'alcoholics will be alcoholics'. Crap.

Does anyone bother going to classes when they are at the U of Iowa? If so, they would actually understand the power of the environment, the power of peers, and the power of society on the consumption of alcohol and the genesis of alcoholism.

That is like saying 'fatties will be fatties' as if an environment of fast food fried crap doesn't influence the rate of obesity.

The environment very much affects college drinking. As the prof at Indiana (Murray Sperber) wrote 'beer and football'
entertain students who take 7 weeks fewer classes than 40 years ago, and who are exposed to low quality TAs while the profs are out enhancing revenue.

Not only are their fewer weeks of classes, the class week goes from Monday to Thur (without many Fri classes) so that drinking can start Thur night.

The recreational programs are also nonsense. Rec program were devised to keep students entertained and busy. Now they are water-downed fake programs.

Thus a watered-down curriculum and a watered-down rec program produces more binge drinking.

In the gun debate, the pulling of facts from the rectum takes the form of 'everyone carried a gun, we would all be safer'. Pure unadulterated tripe. Never proven, and totally unintuitive. As if a mad drunk student would never use a weapon on another student.

In fact, campus cops should not carry weapons, and student's with weapons permits SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED on a college campus. Is the USA so dangerous that every environment needs people armed to the teeth? Would kindergarten be safer if all students were packing too?

The simple fact is 20% of cops are killed by their own weapon. An armed household is far more likely to suffer morbidity and mortality from firearms. Any other argument is crap.

Nick said it many of these bromides are nonsense when examined 'prohibition didn't work' (when it did).

The gun advocates never once produce data. They simply throw out bromides.

State 29 throws some tripe out there, as usual. Concealed weapons would save lives. Crap.

State 29 also seems to revel in antagonizing 'the Ivory Tower' crowd. Those Ivy Tower people must be really really bad heinous people to deserve all that. Evil.

Think of it...the academy, the place of higher education, as a place of concealed weapons? A college, where creativity is valued, is safer if the students are packing instruments of death? This is like a Clockwork Orange nightmare.

Rather than a protected place of open idea exchange we have to trust that the guy with the weapon in class isn't crazy and won't open up on anyone if another student takes umbrage at his opinions in class. I say that is just nuts.

I get the idea that these gun crazies want to relive the wild west days when a man was a man and things were settled on the street with a duel.
Perhaps people always resorted to nonsense and untruths to press their points. However, propaganda seems to be insidious the past several decades. Several dictators used propaganda to further their causes. But what is frightening is the trend in the USA -- once the beacon on the hill -- to use nonsense as political tool. The Bush administration feels if it says something loud enough and long enough that pretty soon people believe it is true. And you see this attitude in action in issues such as weapons on campus and college drinking.

Anonymous said...

Reading comprehension is a skill. The point is, you are always going to have a certain % of people who have substance abuse problems. Heroin and coke are illegal, but there are still plenty of people that have problems with those.

News Flash; The college kids are not going to stop drinking. You can lock down downtown, you can outlaw keggers, and you will just get small group apartment speakeasies off campus.

I was a student at the UI 20 years ago, there was a lot of drinking then. My parents have told me stories about the 60's there.

This is the do as I say, not as I did Boomers at work again.

Anonymous said...

Not backed by Data? How about One Eyed Jakes or several other bars being so packed on a Thursday night you couldn't hardly walk through them? There were A LOT of people drinking. Binge drinking in fact. I didn't take head counts, sorry. The bars were that generalizing if you wish. I can still recall my floor in was a total zoo, so were several of the others. I would say 70+% of the people partied regularly. Thankfully I seldom scheduled morning classes.