Guns and Drugs

Austin, Andrew austina at
Sun May 20 12:41:49 MDT 2001

Opposition to protecting people from gun violence on the grounds that the
state will target the poor and minority is an interesting position,
especially when justified by an analogy that uses the U.S. experience with
repressive drug controls.

First, the argument is strikingly similar to arguments made by conservatives
that anti-poverty programs are a worthy goal but are undesirable because the
poor will abuse them. Should we fail to act to solve major social problems
based on the fact that probably most solutions are subject to abuse? Is it
not more pragmatic (not to mention moral/ethical) to tackle the problem of
gun violence and work to eliminate its abuse rather than do nothing? True,
the prevailing ethnoclass character of the state and law creates problems
for those seeking solutions to social problems, but one does not let
children starve on the grounds that the state is bourgeois. A crucial aspect
of democratizing capitalist society is using the state to advance popular
goals, for example, public education. The fact that public education in U.S.
society is a device for indoctrinating children in bourgeois
culture-ideology is not a good enough reason to demand ignorant children.

Second, curiously, the argument implies that if repressive drug controls did
not target the poor and minority they would represent a worthy societal
goal. This implication is reinforced by the assertion that under a socialist
system gun control would be a worthy goal. I would contend that repressive
drug controls are the absolute worst way of controlling substance abuse in
any system, including a socialist one. Addiction is a health problem and is
best handled through treatment and alterations in the circumstances that
give rise to the physical and psychic states conducive to substance abuse.

Third, the equivalency drawn between guns and drugs that underpins the claim
that restricting guns will inevitably lead to repression of the working
class and minorities is suspect. Cocaine and heroin are not dangerous in the
same way that guns are dangerous. Of course, cocaine and heroin carry
serious societal effects (they are not equivalent to masturbation, for
example), but the only way I can see employing them as analogs to guns is to
characterize the desire to own and discharge firearms as an addiction and to
treat that addiction accordingly. I am not sure whether such an analogy
amounts to an absurdity.

My possessing an ounce of marijuana in my apartment is not the same thing as
having a firearm in my apartment. Pot cannot fly through the walls of my
home and injure or kill persons in the next room. Pot in the hands of my
children is much less likely to harm them and their friends (they might even
enjoy the experience). My wife and children have very little to fear from my
pot in the middle of the night as they roam about the house (except in the
event of a police raid). If a burglar should steal my pot, it is almost
certain (99.9%) that this will not contribute to the injury or death, if any
should occur (a rare event since burglars almost never break into houses
where persons are present), of his next victim. Having a bag of pot in a
restaurant is not dangerous to the patrons dining there. And so forth.

A handgun in the home is an entirely different matter. Guns kill neighbors.
Guns kill fathers, mothers, and children. Guns are stolen from homes and
used in the commission of violent crimes. And so on.

More appropriate analogs to guns include explosives, chemicals, automobiles,
and hazardous wastes. These are not perfect analogs, since chemicals,
automobiles, and the by-products of production are very often, or are the
result of, useful things/activities. While I would quickly agree that
shotguns and rifles are useful (as a life-long hunter I have no doubt of
this), the usefulness of handguns in urban settings is close to nil.
Nevertheless, the appropriateness of chemicals, automobiles, and the like as
analogs rests in the democratic regulation of their use for the protection
of communities (and we ought to restrict their use more severely than we do
now). Most of us would agree that the state should regulate industrial
production and its fallout. It is not therefore consistent to desire that
gun manufacturers, gun sellers, the military, law enforcement, etc., should
be tightly regulated?

Andrew Austin
Assistant Professor
Social Change and Development
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Green Bay, WI 54311-7001
(920) 465-2791

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