The recent Colorado shooting has sparked a national debate on the effectiveness of gun control. My Facebook news feed is littered with comments from my conservative friends claiming we need more concealed carry and from my liberal friends demanding more gun control. Who is right?
To my liberal friends: why do you think drug control is failing but gun control works? To my conservative friends: why do you think drug control works but gun control is failing? Do more restrictions equal less accessibility?
Some conservatives opine that gun control does not work because people will get guns illegally, but in the same breath they'll argue that drug laws prevent drug access. Similarly, some liberals opine that the drug war is a failure since people will continue to get drugs illegally, then inexplicably argue that gun laws prevent bad guys from accessing guns.
Why the disconnect in logic? It reminds me of the joke: "A conservative is a liberal that just got mugged and a liberal is a conservative that just got arrested." Sometimes people are more focused on political or personal agendas than consistency in viewpoints.
This post isn't about whether gun ownership reduces or increases crime, or whether recreational drug use is benign or harmful. It also isn't about whether certain drugs should be criminalized and certain guns banned. I aim to keep it simpler and more to the point: Are drug and gun laws proven to be effective at preventing access?
The quick and disheartening answer is no. CBSNews reported that even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes that the War on Drugs does more to hurt our nation than help.
"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified" ... At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse -- "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" -- cost the United States $215 billion a year. Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."
Likewise, there doesn't either seem to be any sold widely accepted evidence that more gun control equals less access to guns.
In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 253 journal articles, 99 books and 43 government publications evaluating 80 gun-control measures. Researchers could not identify a single regulation that reduced violent crime, suicide or accidents. A year earlier, the Centers for Disease Control reported on ammunition bans, restrictions on acquisition, waiting periods, registration, licensing, child access prevention and zero tolerance laws. CDC's conclusion: There was no conclusive evidence that the laws reduced gun violence.
States like the District of Columbia have some of the highest homicide rates in the country yet very restrictive gun laws. With a country that has an estimated 250 million guns in circulation it's hard to imagine that government regulation would markedly impact accessibility.
I have yet to hear a convincing argument why drug laws fail but gun laws work or why gun laws work but drug laws fail. Regardless, society certainly needs reasonable gun regulations and reasonable drug laws, but in practicality legislation is not a panacea to prevent access to illegal drugs and guns. Criminals circumvent gun laws and drug addicts circumvent drug laws.
Additional methods of preventing access, such as awareness and education campaigns, need to be explored by our policy makers.
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