Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Drug Law Reform and Gun Control

Drug Law Reform and Gun Control


An elementary school in Connecticut.  A shopping mall in Oregon.  A Sikh  temple in Wisconsin.  A movie theater in Colorado.  A series of mass shootings across the country has moved to issue of gun control to the political front burner.  What can the long struggle about drug Prohibition teach this new debate?

Prohibition makes things worse.  Prohibition laws do not make the prohibited thing – alcohol, drugs, commercial sex, gambling, unavailable.  They just turn the product over to violent criminals and gangs who terrorize communities, corrupt law enforcement, sell to minors, and kill customers with adulterated products.  A prohibitory ban on “assault rifles” and handguns would have the same result.  Mexico has tried gun Prohibition; has it worked there?  The old bumper sticker should be rewritten as: “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will sell guns.”

Harm reduction is effective.  Harm reduction has been effective in minimizing the harmful effects of drug abuse.  Measures include methadone maintenance (heroin maintenance in Switzerland and England), sterile needle exchanges, sterile injection sites (in Europe), and diversion of cases from judicial action to community-based programs.  Harm reduction could also help limit damage from gun use: universal background checks, delivery through licensed dealers with background checks for internet and mail order sales, waiting periods between purchase and delivery, capacity limits on magazines, and mandatory safety instruction before sales are just a few of the measures to be included.

Fact-based education is essential.  Education of children on gun safety should be mandatory, possibly included in school health education.  But it should be fact-based.  Drug education has seen the success of the reduction of tobacco use by more than half, while sloganeering like “Just say ‘No’” and fear-based propagandistic attempts like DARE have actually been counterproductive.

Old myths are hard to kill.  Marijuana does not turn nice teenagers (or Blacks or Mexicans) into drug-crazed rapists and murders.  Smoking cannabis does not cause lung cancer.  A householder does not need an arsenal of Stinger missiles to shoot down black helicopters.

If it fits on a bumper sticker, it isn’t an answer.  Solutions to complex problems can’t be found in three- or four- word slogans.  Slogans just shout at each other.  They don’t analyze issues or lead to consensus.  Whether it says “Drugs Kill” or “Guns Don’t Kill”, it just adds to the problem: it doesn’t lead to answers.

Drug reformers have extensive experience in public policy debates.  They must apply the expertise they have gained to this current debate.  It’s up to you to decide which side you favor, but in any case, break the couch lock, stand up and help shape the argument.

Support your right to arm bears!


  1. Why do I need the right to own assault rifles?