I’ve about had it with today’s chummy restaurant servers who insist on calling me and my wife “guys.” “Can I get you guys something to drink?” “Are you guys ready to order?” “How is everything, guys?” “Thanks, guys.” Strike out the word “guys” in the preceding, and … nothing changes. So why do servers insist on using such a gender-specific expression for everyone?

Real “guys” wear purple jerseys and tailgate before Vikings games. “Guys” put caps on backward and wear them indoors. “Guys” talk sports and toss Frisbees and belch without embarrassment. My wife is clearly not a “guy.” Traditionally, the term “guys” used to be coupled with “gals” — in the name of gender equality, shouldn’t servers sometimes ask me and my wife, “how’re you gals doing?”As an all-inclusive pronoun, “you” is quite sufficient for addressing male and female patrons, singular and plural and gender-free. “Ladies and gents” is OK, if a bit stuffy. “Folks” would be acceptable and, well, folksier. Even “y’all” will do, for the geographically impaired. But if a server skipped the breezy salutation entirely, I wouldn’t miss it. Nor would I miss the presumptuous “we,” as in “what are we having?” and “how are we doing?” and “are we ready for the check?” “We” implies that the server has somehow become part of our dinner party. Although I wouldn’t mind so much if the server would pick up part of the check as well.

I appreciate good servers, because I’ve been in their shoes. Waiting tables and tending bar helped me pay my way through school, and taught me the importance of getting — and giving — good tips. But I also learned that a server’s job is to facilitate the diners’ experience, not intrude on it with chatty nonsense. Please, folks, when you come to our table, leave out the “guys.”

Jack Maloney, St. Paul


The role of abortion; the concept of constitutional protections

David P. Bryden made some good points in his March 15 commentary, “The case against the Equal Rights Amendment,” but he never addressed the overriding fundamental issue that supports passing the ERA. The ERA failed in 1985 precisely because anti-abortion opponents such as Phyllis Schlafly hammered away relentlessly that it would reinforce Roe vs. Wade by giving women autonomy and therefore the absolute right to abortion.

The Roe vs. Wade ruling did not go that far. It simply made women wards of the state where an unwanted or disastrous pregnancy was concerned. It regulated the timing and circumstances under which abortion was permitted. It thus assumed what societies have always and everywhere assumed — that women, as society’s child bearers, are an essential community resource, a public utility to be controlled and regulated.

Granted, Roe vs. Wade did end the criminalization of abortion, and its three-trimester regulatory system was only what women had always sensibly worked out on their own, but it invited the plethora of unnecessary harassing and punitive regulation enhancements that have made legal abortion services increasingly inaccessible in most states, especially for poor women. Passage of the ERA would give women a legal autonomy that would require abortion to be treated like any other medical procedure and none of the government’s business. If the ERA wording is “vague,” it’s out of a vain hope that the “A” word won’t come up and sabotage it. But it will, because the primal societal urge for reproductive control of women runs deep, part of a culture that seems unable to control sexual violence against women.

Marie Alena Castle, Minneapolis

• • •

Bryden argues that ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment would encourage the Supreme Court to “create new constitutional rights” for women more rapidly or aggressively than it has done thus far under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. His preference seems to be for Congress to address “social problems” through legislation because its members are elected and therefore accountable to a majority of citizens.

Under this remarkable theory, all constitutional protections for citizens become unnecessary, since the elected and accountable Congress presumably would guard the rights of all with assiduous care. It is hard to square this idea with Bryden’s reference to Jim Crow laws, which he views as products of a time and place where the political system was “extraordinarily disabled.” Sadly, the political system was not disabled; it was translating the will of the majority, or at least of the controlling faction, faithfully into statute.

The founders took particular care to guard the rights of minorities against the will of the majority through much-discussed checks-and-balances mechanisms, and through a number of enumerated protections, that were soon expanded in the Bill of Rights. While they had 18th century notions of which minorities deserved which rights, they seem not to have viewed citizens’ rights before the law as a matter for majority rule or as a garden-variety social problem.

It is worth noting that Congress was not particularly aggressive in creating vexing new rights for women under the 14th Amendment of 1868. The Supreme Court also declined the bait, finding in 1875 that the 14th Amendment did not guarantee women the vote (Minor vs. Happersett). The 19th Amendment of 1920 was necessary to bring about what was indeed a new and long-overdue right.

Bryden concludes by focusing on rape prosecutions as if they are the primary motivation for the ERA, writing that the problem of rape does not justify “a vague instruction to treat women as ‘equal.’ ” Readers can decide for themselves whether this language is vague: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Brad A. Peterson, Minneapolis


Commentary writer responds

A March 10 letter writer responding to my March 9 commentary about “Stand Your Ground” laws claims that my research on gun control has been ”discredited” by the National Research Council, even suggesting that I engaged in fraud.

The 2004 National Research Council report merely concluded (p. 121): “It is impossible to draw strong conclusions from the existing literature on the causal impact of these [right-to-carry] laws.” The NRC reached this same nonconclusion for each of the 30 gun-control regulations that it examined: namely, that more research was needed.

Only on right-to-carry did the panel fail to reach a consensus of no conclusion. James Q. Wilson, considered possibly “the most influential criminal justice scholar of the 20th century,” concluded (p. 271): “I find that the evidence presented by Lott and his supporters suggests that [right-to-carry] laws do in fact help drive down the murder rate.” Wilson pointed to the panel’s own estimates, all of which showed that right-to-carry laws reduce murder rates.

The March 10 letter writer claims that one of my surveys “vanished completely without any evidence.” However, respondents have come forward to say that they took the survey. I have also provided tax returns showing payments to research assistants.

On July 3, 1997, I experienced a hard disk crash in which I lost data for many research papers. I had been collaborating with 10 different researchers around the country, and I subsequently spent years working with them to replace the lost data. The letter writer is referring to a specific survey that represented only one paragraph in one book, and in 2002 it was replicated with similar results. That data is available on the website of my nonprofit research organization (http://crimeresearch.org/data/).

John R. Lott Jr., Swarthmore, Pa.

The writer is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.