Leif received an email reply to his passionate letter about the drinking age to Senator Brownback. He immediately sent it out, with this even longer and more impassioned reply, to most of the people in his email address book. After dismissing the drinking age views in a couple of paragraphs, he addressed gun control, American freedoms and the Patriot Act.
From: "Leif Garretson"
Date: Thu Feb 12, 2004 23:16:59 US/Central
Subject: correspondence with Senator Brownback.
Below is a letter I received from our Senator Brownback (Republican) of Kansas. What follows is my response. Please read.
February 12, 2004
Mr. Leif Garretson
Manhattan, KS 66502
Thank you for your letter regarding lowering the drinking age. I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts on this important issue. There is no better guide to making tough decisions than hearing from the people whom I serve.
Safety should be the first priority when it comes to alcohol. It frustrates me to hear stories involving irresponsible drinking, especially when it involves driving.
As a father of five I am personally concerned about safety; not only the safety of my children, but the safety of all children and all others using our streets and highways. I strongly support educating all citizens about the dangers associated with consuming and abusing alcohol. Education is the key to stopping underage drinking and driving.
In addition to fears for the safety of passengers and pedestrians, I have to say that the drinking age has had a positive impact on the number of teens drinking. According to the U.S. Census, in 1974, thirty-four percent of teens between twelve and seventeen reported being regular users of alcohol. In 1994, only sixteen percent reported using it regularly. Death rates from alcohol-related accidents have decreased by almost two percent. Drinking has serious consequences for young people.
That having been said, the rules and regulations governing the drinking age are under the jurisdiction of the state of Kansas. I recommend you contact your representatives in the Kansas State Legislature with your concerns. They would best be able to help you.
Thank you for giving me the chance to explain my position on the drinking age and underage drinking and driving. I know this question is on a lot of young people's minds. Please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future.
United States Senator
Dear Senator Brownback,
Aside from various arguments I could make about the injustice of allowing men and women to serve and die overseas when they are not trusted to drink, I will make 2 points.
First is that any good scientist knows that correlation does no equal causation. Simply put, that means that just becuase the number of teens drinking has decreased since the drinking age was raised does NOT mean they are drinking less BECAUSE of the drinking age. It is quite likely that the factors you mentioned such as education and societal attitude had more impact on teens drinking than the legal age did.
Also the drinking age may be 21, but society clearly tolerates drinking at 18 -- but not at 17 or younger. I would be challenged to find a student at K-State or KU that had made it though their freshman year without having a drink at a party or two. The activity is going on regardless of its legality and honestly I think it is a misdirection of resources. I found it a bit insulting when after my car had been burglarized for the second time, I was again told that the police did not have the time or money to investigate such a minor matter. Yet they do have the time and money pay a cop $35,000 a year to write speeding tickets and to break up college parties so they can issue M.I.Ps. I think the resources used to stop underage drinking could be better spent. How many of my tax dollars have been wasted on the enforcement of this law, I wonder?
Secondly, your point that the drinking age is set by the Kansas State Legislature is an interesting one, isn't it? I am well aware of the fact that this is a state law. What I am also aware of, which many are not, is that the state governments were coerced into compliance with the federal mandate for a drinking age of 21. How were they coerced? With money, of course, or rather the threat of losing it. Specifically, federal funds for highways. Any state that did not raise its drinking age lost 40% of its highway funding. Not surprisingly it wasn't long before every state was in compliance. The only place that did not was Puerto Rico. I used to live in Puerto Rico and I must say the roads are terrible as a result.
So while you are right that the law is set at the state level, if the states are blackmailed into making that law by the federal
government, as they were, it becomes a federal issue. In fact, it actually bring us to an ever larger and more offensive issue; the
issue of the corruption or errosion of federalism. The separation of state and federal governments is a great thing. The fact that if you don't care for the laws in one state, you may move to another that better suits you is a good thing. But if those states are coerced by the federal goverment into compliance then federalism is in jeopardy.
I must say that in the last year or two I have become extremely troubled by the amount of power that the federal government has been grabbing up. I grew up always thinking that I was mostly Republican, though lately I am finding less and less in common with the GOP. I have always believed that the less government interference in our lives there was, was the better, and the Republican party was the most likely to guarantee that. Particular issues like gun control which particularly should be left to state or even municipal governments kept me away from the Democratic Party. In particular I was very troubled by the 1994 crime bill and the included ban on assault weapons which is one of the most ill-conceived and poorly written pieces of legislation there is, directed at the wrong weapons for the wrong reasons with definitions that can be easily circumvented.
For example, an AK-47 is considered an "assault weapon" becasue it has a large magazine, a pistol grip, and a bayonet lug. If it has only 2 of these features, it is not an "assault weapon," so all one must do to sell the very same weapon legally under the ban is to remove the two pieces of wood that make up the stock and pistol grip and replace them with one piece of wood that forms a thumb hole stock. It is now NOT an "assault weapon."
Similarly, I own an AR-15 rifle that I bought legally with my driver's license at a local gun store. This is a civilian model of the M-16 I carried in the army, which I purchased to keep my skills up. The only difference between the two rifles, other than the lack of full auto fire capability, is that my rifle does not have the flash suppressor, bayonet lug, or the optional telesoping stock. Now lets look at these one by one.
The bayonet lug: I challenge anyone to tell me when the last time was that an America civilian was killed in a drive by bayoneting. I didn't spend $1400 on a rfile to use it as a spear. Could have gotten a spear alot cheaper. Nevertheless, this has been made illegal and required the redesign of hundreds of weapons costing the consumer more money.
The Flash Supressor: Flash supressors serve only one function; to obscure the position of a camouflaged soldier from enemy view by preventing a muzzle flash. This is of little or no concern to crime. Not many criminals are sneaking around camouflaged in the woods like Rambo, killing civilians.
The Pistol grip: This was added to the list because it supposedly made it easier to operate the weapon by shooting from the hip, which supposedly criminals like to do. This is completley inaccurate. As a former armorer and expert marksman I can speak as an expert on the subject and tell you that the addition of the pistol grip by Eugene Stoner, who designed the M-16, was done to make the weapon easier to fire from the prone positon, not the hip. Firing a pistol grip weapon from the hip is more difficult and less comfortable than firing a conventional stocked rifle or shotgun. And firing from the hip is the least desireable, least accurate, and therefore least lethal method, so this makes no sense.
Lastly the folding or telescoping stock: This is the only one that has any bearing on crime, and only because it speaks to the idea of concealability. However, this is a useless and uneeded law. It takes less then 5 minutes to swap a stock on a rifle like an AR-15, so a criminal can simply remove the folding stock when not in use and the weapon is perfectly legal. It is an uneeded law because the concealment of a weapon is already a crime. Whether it is an illegal "assault weapon" or a perfectly legal revolver, carrying a concealed firearm without a permit is a felony. If one is already willfully commiting a felony by carrying the weapon, do you really think they are going to care if the weapon they are carrying is legal or not? Whether they are carrying a revolver or a folded AK-47 the charge is the same. So what good does this law do? All it does is restrict the freedoms of those that obey the law.
Bottom line is, If I am going to use a gun to commit a felony such as robbery or murder, and am already risking 30 years to life, do you really think I am gonna care if the weapon is illegal or not? What is 2 years tacked onto 20 or 50? In fact, in most cases, these offenses are not even bothered with as establishing the crime of carry is a waste of time that only bores the juries, so few prosecutors bother with them unless it is all they have.
These gun control measures are ineffective for the simple reason that criminals by definition don't obey the law. Only non-criminals obey the law and non-criminals having guns is not a problem.
Another thing that really irritates me is politicians making comments such as, "I don't think you need an AK-47 to hunt deer." That is true; you don't. But that is not why we have those weapons or have the right to such weapons. Also, laws which ban weapons that "do not have a legitimate sporting or hunting use" are misguided. We don't have the Second Amendment so that we can go out on the weekends and shoot Bambi and beer cans. We have the Second Amendment because this country won its independance from tyranny because we had armed citizens that used their own weapons against their oppressors and the wise men that wrote the Constitution realized that despite their best efforts the Constitution might fail to prevent tyranny. The Second Amendment is the final check and balance in the Constitution, ensuring that should our worst nightmares come true and our government becomes a tyranny, the people have the means to fight that tyranny.
We don't have the right to bear arms so that we can shoot dear. We have the right to bear arms so that if necessary, as an absolute last resort, we can wage war against our own government.
Now I am no radical militant. I am no anarchist. I believe in the Constitution and in our government. I belive that the system will ultimately work and come back into balance. However, I also believe that nothing can be trusted or taken for granted. So if someone asks me, "Why do you need and assault rifle?" I answer, "Because the soldiers and policemen that are the instruments of our government have assault rifles and worse. And should the day ever come that those men no longer serve us, but rather serve to oppress us, then the men and women of this country will meet them with equal force and superior conviction. That is why I need and assault rifle."
I hope with all my heart that that day never comes. But I am a student of history and I also believe the saying that, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."
Now I am not suggesting that there should be no control what so ever. I have no problem with the idea of the County of Los Angeles passing a law making it lllegal to have such weapons within the city limits to prevent crime. That is reasonable. But why should a person in Manhattan, Kansas have his rights restricted and infringed because of a situation in Los Angeles? Federal gun control laws are inappropriate and unconstitutional. If California thinks they need a BAN to keep LA safe, let them ban it and leave me alone. There are no drive-bys in my neighborhood. No drug turf wars. So why must I live under legislation that was passed solely to address an isolated and local problem? The federal government has no business putting its nose in this issue. It is a Local issue and should be handled locally.
But I digress.
However while I am venting my opinons to you, I may as well continue on to the thing that scares me and many Americans more than anything since the threat of Nuclear War. And that is the Patriot Act. I think "The Facist Act" would have been a more appropriate name. America, the land of the free, is in danger of becoming America, the land of the surveilled and held without due process. We have gone TOO far in the wake of 9/11 and are now treading hard on the very freedoms we sought to protect.
A great American once said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Now it seems more like, "to hell with liberty as long as we have safety." This trend is very disturbing and must be turned around NOW. I am not afraid of terrorists. An enemy without is not nearly as dangerous as an enemy within, and the enemy within is our own fear and paranoia. As the memory of 9/11 fades, I find myself and many other Americans fearing less and less about the terrorists and more an more about our government.
We do not worry about terrorists attacks. They don't keep me up at night. What makes me worry at night is the day that I have to fear the police. That getting pulled over night might mean 60 days in jail without being charged instead of a $60 fine. What makes me afraid is the day when I can't voice my opinions without risking interrogation and imprisonment by agents of the Office of Homeland Security without access to a lawyer or even being charged. What I fear is that we are on a trend that will make concepts like "Big Brother" and the Gestapo seem all to familiar.
Closer to home, I worry about the ability of the Executive Branch to influence our Senators and Congressman with information that they can now obtain legally through surveillance. Say, for example, that surveillance tools like the "carnivore program" dug up some skeleton from your closet. Something that could cost you reelection, and you were threatened with the release of that information if you did not vote for the President's legislation. Now I might be concerned or upset by whatever scandal about you might be exposed, but I am MUCH more concerned that my senator might NOT vote his conscience and NOT represent my interests because he knew his career was on the line.
I am not suggesting that you have any such skeleton in your closet nor that this President would abuse this power this way. However, laws must never be written under the assumption that only good men will hold the reigns of power, and if we do not have the foresight to see how they could be abused then that hypothetical scenario I described might not be so hyothetical.
We are not there yet and some say it will never go that far. That may be true, but that will be because we stop it right here and now by repealing the Patriot Act in favor of more sober and less panicked legislation that does not endanger our rights as free citizens. Enemies of the death penalty have the saying that it is better to let 10 murderers go free than to kill one innocent man. I would make the same argument. Better to let 10 terrorists escape justice than to abuse the civil rights of one American.
Benjamin Franklin once said that, "A man that trades a piece of his liberty for safety deserves neither." I, for one, am a man that will never willingly trade away my liberty, and I would appreciate it if you and your colleagues did not trade it away on my behalf.
Leif A. Garretson
The photo of Leif was taken July 29, 2004 in Manhattan, Kansas. five months after he wrote this. He was 29 years old.