Gun database needs a chance to prove its value
The Maryland State Police recently issued a report calling for the repeal of Maryland's law that requires the state police to maintain a database with "ballistic fingerprints" for all new handguns sold in the state ("State police call for scrapping ballistic-identification program," Jan. 19). Although a report last year from the same agency highlighted the potential utility of the system for solving gun crimes, the state police now deem it a failure because it hasn't led to any convictions.
But this should come as no surprise. The state police have long known about barriers to the system's use and problems with equipment, software, training and quality control, but have done nothing to correct these problems.
Police in Maryland have recovered many thousands of shell casings from crime scenes since the law's inception. Yet only a little more than 200 pieces of ballistic evidence have been checked against the database for new handguns.
No credible scientist would make conclusions about the effectiveness of a new safety device if he or she knew that those responsible for using the device never really took it out of the box.
Gun violence in Maryland has enormous social costs. And millions of taxpayers' dollars have been invested in the ballistic imaging system.
The state police should commit to trying to make the database work before issuing any more reports on its effectiveness.
The writer is co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University.
Redistricting follies hit closer to home
I was appalled that the otherwise fine editorial on the need to depoliticize the drawing of legislative districts ("Take back the maps," Jan. 16) failed to even mention the egregious redistricting process here in Maryland.
The Sun acknowledged that California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a good idea, but chose to cite the Republican-directed redistricting of Texas as an example of why it is needed. How much more appropriate it would have been to discuss the Maryland process, which scattered Republican voters from the old 2nd Congressional District all over the place.
The 2nd District now wraps most of the way around Baltimore City and borders the 1st, 3rd, 6th and 7th districts.
My own ZIP code (21204) used to be served by the winner of the 2nd District; now it is divided between the 3rd and the 7th.
But if I drive just a half-mile to the north, I am in the 2nd District, which has now been gerrymandered into a Democratic safe house.
Another half-mile to the north and I am in the 1st District, which has somehow expanded from the Eastern Shore into Baltimore County. (Had to park those Republicans somewhere.)
At one point near the border with Carroll County, the formerly Republican 2nd District chokes down to less than a quarter-mile wide.
But this is not Texas, and the action was not perpetrated by the Republicans, so it must not be relevant to The Sun.
Robert E. Murphy
Use ZIP code units to redraw districts
If the main objective in drawing and redrawing legislative district maps wasn't to maintain political power, it would seem to be relatively simple to create districts that would be reasonably fair and sensible ("Take back the maps," editorial, Jan. 16).
Surely, Census Bureau or U.S. Postal Service data could give us pretty good population numbers according to ZIP code.
Just go east to west (or west to east, north to south or south to north, if you prefer) ZIP code by ZIP code, until you have the appropriate population for a district. Then, when population shifts warrant redistricting, simply add or delete the closest adjacent ZIP code with the closest population needed to achieve the required change.
This wouldn't always be perfect in keeping similar communities together - no plan can be - but clean, clear-cut rules would be a vast improvement.
But then, virtually anything would be.
Comics page reaches a broader audience
I enjoy reading "Doonesbury" and hope that even those who disagree with Garry Trudeau's message will read it.
"Doonesbury" brings us important messages about our president, and perhaps its placement on the comic pages leads to frank conversations between children and parents.
I'd prefer to see "Doonesbury" go back to the comic pages; those who read the editorial and Opinion
Commentary pages already receive its message.
Daniel A. Levy
Moving comic strips capitulates to critics
Shame on you for moving "Doonesbury" and "The Boondocks" to the Opinion * Commentary page.
This guarantees that people who expect only mindless slapstick will be spared anything that might be thought-provoking.
I ignore many of the cartoons, and those who object to political cartoons such as "Doonesbury" and "The Boondocks" could do the same. Moving them signals capitulation and agreement with The Sun's critics that political discourse ought to be safely segregated onto the opinion pages.