Friday, February 15, 2008

UI and the ATF II

February 15, 2008, 10:15, 11:15 a.m.

I first wrote about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- as it's now called -- last September, when the UI's primary focus was on alcohol (for underage binge drinkers) and firearms (for campus police).
Nicholas Johnson, "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms" in "Iowa City's 'Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,'" September 22 and 23, 2007. Those issues are still with us, but to them we have now added tobacco.


Alcohol abuse is still in the news, creating its easily predictable consequences. (And note how many of these stories were all in one day's paper!).

A patron, so drunk that even an Iowa City bar owner wouldn't let him buy more is turned out on the street and is now an alleged murderer. Brian Morelli, "Mandatory bartender training suggested; Possibility exists of charges against bar," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 12, 2008; Brian Morelli, "Jakes refused entry to alleged murderer," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

A student is so drunk that he either falls or lies down in ice and snow overnight, still smells of alcohol when he's discovered by workmen in the morning, could easily have lost his life but thankfully looses only fingers and toes. Brian Morelli, "Student loses fingers, toes after passing out in alley," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

In my September entry I noted the captions on a Bob Patton cartoon cartoon depicting 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!" In the latest illustration of life imitating art, a student has been arrested for running just such a business -- selling fake IDs for $200 apiece. Lee Hermiston, "Police shut down fake ID business; seize drugs, guns," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 9, 2008.

A local bar owner stiffs the Fire Department, refuses to fix a firetrap problem, then bellyaches when he's politely asked a second time, but is permitted to stay open. Editorial, "Council right to support fire official on bar license," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 9, 2008.

Another bar, in violation of law, holds an "Extreme Midget Wrestling" contest. Lee Hermiston, "Local bar going to court over event; Paperwork is missing from 'Extreme Midget Wrestling' event," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

And a local bank vice president, by embezzling over a half-million dollars, comes up with an alternative to alcohol abuse: $150,000 worth of powdered cocaine. (We haven't heard much more about the fraternity that was recently closed because of the drug dealing going on from there.) Lee Hermiston, "Former Hills Bank VP indicted," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.


To alcohol, the University has now added the matter of tobacco -- a substance which, while a leading cause of death -- causes much less general societal havoc than alcohol. See Harold Harker, Jr., "Alcohol Has Done More Damage Than Smoke," Des Moines Register, February 15, 2008 ("It's the ironic nature of the ad that created my chuckle. Here we see pictured an individual [a bartender standing in front of rows of liquor bottles] who is a purveyor of the legal drug in America that has single-handedly caused more personal heartache, death, destruction and suffering than any substance known to man -- not to mention related health problems, lower worker productivity, property damage and a host of other social ills . . . and he is complaining about breathing secondhand smoke?"). That's kind of my point.

Alcohol abuse gets a wink and a nod, and tobacco gets a total ban.
Erin Jordan and Mason Kerns, "U of I to ban smoking on campus next year," Des Moines Register, February 5, 2008. It's an interesting juxtaposition. (However, like alcohol, local businesses also profit from its sale to those under-age customers to whom sales are illegal. Lee Hermiston, "Three Coralville businesses fail tobacco checks," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for discouraging smoking. Epidemiologists have told me that they can still see in the statistics the impact of the 1960s anti-smoking commercials I encouraged when an FCC commissioner. As co-director of Iowa's Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy I helped select anti-tobacco efforts as our number one priority -- the most effective single thing we could do to promote public health.

But I do think that an academic institution of intellectuals has an obligation to at least recognize a distinction between the underlying rationale for various anti-smoking policies.

Smoke is a health hazard, whether from burnt toast, a bonfire or cigarettes. For a flight attendant in a plane, a waitress in a bar, a co-worker in a building, or a student in a classroom, there's little they can do to avoid that hazard. To prohibit smoking in such places is simply an application of the old adage that "your freedom to swing your arm stops where my nose begins."

The second-hand smoke prohibition is directed not so much at the harm the smoker is doing to him or herself, but rather to the harm they are doing to others (although a beneficial by-product of the policy may be the encouragement to quit it provides smokers).

However, to ban smoking anywhere on campus, irrespective of any harm it is doing to others (beyond de minimis), cannot claim that rationale. That's not to say such a policy cannot be justified. It's just to say that it's difficult to justify without acknowledging that it contains an element of paternalism (i.e., "we know better than you do what is good for you"). Now the fact of the matter is that we do know better than the smoker what is good for him or her -- indeed, there are a good many smokers who would agree that we do. It's only to say that you can't sneak the policy in under the "harm to others from secondhand smoke" tent.

A campus-wide ban has an element of social ostracism, a punitive quality, about it. That may be OK, but it at least needs to be acknowledged.


Regarding the arming of campus police, in the September blog entry I wrote,

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.
And so it is this morning that we read of yet another incident of inexplicable random gun deaths in a classroom at the near-neighbor Northern Illinois University. Ted Gregory, "NIU Gunman Identified," Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2008, 11:34 a.m. It's tragic; it's sad; but whether NIU has armed campus security or not, their guns would not have prevented this tragedy -- nor would the guns of our campus police should, God forbid, a similar incident occur here. As the Trib quotes NIU President Peters as saying, ""I don't know if any plan can prevent this kind of tragedy." And see Erin Jordan, "Regent: Steps to Protect Students Carry No Guarantees," Des Moines Register, December 15, 2008 ("[A] member of the Iowa Board of Regents [Craig Lang of Brooklyn] said there are no guarantees the steps [taken by the Regents and university administrators] are adequate [to guarantee student safety]. 'Unfortunately, that [the procedure put in place] doesn't mean we can protect everybody from someone like that who wants to kill.'")

I noted elsewhere,

There is no basis for the belief that guns on campus won't create the same risks as they do elsewhere -- including the risk that a campus police officer's gun will be stolen in a scuffle and then used on him or her, or someone else.
Nicholas Johnson, "Weaponry on Campus: Wrong Reasons, Wrong Result" in "Peace Through War; Security Through Weaponry," September 6, 2007.

Now, sadly, we've seen that prediction come true as well. A police officer in New Orleans, following a scuffle, was killed with her own gun by her assailant. It remains a real risk on the UI campus as well -- that armed police end up making a campus more dangerous rather than less.
Leslie Eaton, "Officer's Slaying Leaves New Orleans Asking Why," New York Times, January 31, 2008

But in some ways the most baffling aspect of arming our campus police -- hilarious if it weren't so serious and expensive -- involves the purchase of the guns. Lee Hermiston, "UI Police getting new guns," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 4, 2008; Melanie Kucera, "UI police switch guns," The Daily Iowan, February 5, 2008.

Hermiston reports,

Since then [November 2007], officers have been carrying their black .40 caliber SIG Sauer P229s with them everywhere they go.

However, beginning in April, the officers will carry a new handgun, the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson M & P.
And the cost of this switch?

The department will order about 40 guns, Visin said, at the cost of about $430 per gun. Visin said that price is about $170 less per gun than the cost of the SIG Sauers. Also, Visin said that the department will be able to trade in their old guns to the provider and the credit officers receive will go towards the purchase of the new handguns.

“It’s costing us about $3,000 and some change,” Visin said.
OK, $430, plus the $170 additional for the P229s, is $600, times 40 guns is $24,000. Now we're going to pay an additional $3000 for the cheaper guns? What a deal we're getting on that trade-in, huh? The bottom line? Looks like we're going to be paying $27,000 for 40 $430 guns which, had we purchased them in the first place would have cost $17,200 rather than $27,000.

Of course, they get a lot of use so it's probably worth it, right? Kucera reports,

Since Nov. 22, 2007, when the UI police were officially armed, no instances of weapon use have occurred, Visin said. In the year and a half that state troopers have been using the guns, Paradise can only recall two times in which the trigger was pulled.

But wait, it gets worse.

Remember the call for armed campus police? One of the arguments was that they should be similarly equipped as the Iowa City Police. Well, they were. They won't be any longer. As Kucera reports, "The Iowa City police still use older guns, Glocks" -- the ones the campus police apparently had before they decided to "step up."

Someone calling himself "623" posted the following comment to Hermiston's Press-Citizen story,

It is misleading and foolish to call this weapon a "step up" from the weapons carried by other departments. While the M & P has sold very well since its inception, that has been strongly augmented by aggressive marketing and promotion. Despite good sales, there have been a number of issues with the guns and many "upgrades" to address those issues. The most recent of which involves melting of the frame after sustained firing. Smith and Wesson seems commited to the platform, but that doesn't make it better than anybody else's product.

The "step down" Glock pistols carried by other agencies (something like 75% or more agencies nationwide) are based on a design that is both simple and proven. A Glock pistol disassembles in to less than forty pieces and is perhaps one of the easiest weapons platforms on the market to maintain. Add to that near infinite industry support (holsters, parts, etc) and the fact that it has existed in virtually the same form for more than 20 years, and you simply may not call it a "step down."

The Sig handguns that the department of public safety is getting rid of are considered to be very "high end" guns.
"Posted by: 623 on Mon Feb 04, 2008 5:40 pm."

I have no idea who this is, and I claim no comparable knowledge about guns. But whoever he or she is they at least sound like they know what they're talking about.

Whatever else you may think about arming campus police, I don't think we're off to a very reassuring start.

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