Columns 2012

Guns and drugs

The recent massacre in Colorado will inevitably re-ignite the debate over guns in America. While few dispute the right to own guns, the argument over what kind of guns, how many and whether anyone really needs 10,000 rounds of ammunition for a semi-automatic will continue for years.

Guns, as the NRA so often intones, do not kill people. People kill people. And they will do it with anything handy. If you take their guns, they will use knives. If you take their knives, they will use bricks or sticks or fists or bombs. If someone wants to kill, they will find a way to do so.

This explanation, of course, is of little comfort to the families of those killed last week. Their loved ones went to see a movie and became part of an all too real shoot’em up in which actual blood was shed and people died. Unlike video games, these people didn’t get back up, shake off the hits and return to the game.

One argument of gun advocates is that guns are inherently morally neutral – it’s the choice of people in how they use them that can make them evil or good. Rifle takes down bear charging your child – gun good.  Sick bastard dresses up like some fantasy character and uses guns to spray a theater full of innocent people – gun bad. It’s all relative.

I would argue that those who insist guns do not kill people, but rather people kill people, should also be strong advocates of the legalization of drugs. Because drugs don’t kill people – people kill people and themselves by misusing the drugs. As with guns, drugs can be viewed as morally neutral until used by a person in a specific manner that then renders them, for that moment, as good or bad.

The war on drugs is, by anyone’s standard, a total, complete, unmitigated and at this point morally indefensible disaster. We have been at it for over forty years and have precious little to show in the way of victories. For every battle we win, we seem to lose the war even more. Crack down on pot – hello cocaine. Crack down on cocaine – hello angel dust. Crack down on angel dust – welcome back heroin.

Thousands of people have died. Thousands more sit in jail for nothing more than possession of pot. DEA personnel put their lives on the line every day to try and hold back a flood that will not be denied. Clean up the drugs in some of South America’s worse strongholds and watch the traffic migrate north to Central America. Want poppies for heroin? Destroy the field to the left and the farmer working the field to the right will have a bumper year with his crop’s value rising exponentially. 

The only “drug wars” we’ve ever come close to winning are the ones on cigarettes in general and alcohol during pregnancy. Both those wars were fought with information and public pressure, not armed agents against even more heavily armed drug lords. But for some reason, American politicians find it hard to locate their courage in not only speaking this truth, but doing something about it.

Ask them their stance on guns and, even as we still reel from the recent shooting in Colorado, most will defend the right to own as many as you want with as much fire power as you can muster because they are either that committed to guns or that afraid of the power of the NRA. Ask these same politicians about the total failure of the war on drugs and the reality that drugs do not kill but that people kill with their use of them, and those same politicians will pontificate from some sanctimonious platform about the evils of drugs – as though our most prevalent and deadly drug, alcohol, wasn’t already legal.

I would really like to see the NRA grab hold of their testosterone and stand in solidarity with those who believe that drugs do not kill people, people kill people. I want to see them demand an end to the persecution of people who merely prefer to smoke rather than drink their drug of choice, much the same way they would defend the right of gun owners to possess weapons barely this side of mass destruction.

It’s all of one continuum.