Which will it be, guns or drugs?
A couple of days ago a man was fatally shot two blocks from my house, in daylight, just after 7 p.m. The police say it was a dispute over money. In January a young man was fatally shot from a passing car as he stood on his front porch, a block from my house. Police don’t know why. A couple of summers ago, a man was fatally shot in a car half a block from my house. Police speculated on involvement in a drug transaction. And my neighborhood is, by Baltimore standards, a quiet one.
I live in a city where weaponry is readily available and often in the hands of people with bad temper and poor impulse control.
Over the past four decades of the “war on drugs,” guns have been legal and drugs have not. I wonder how the past forty years would have gone had the legalities been reversed.
Daniel Okrent’s history of Prohibition, Last Call, describes the major elements of that failed experiment: powerful political lobbies poised to punish any officeholder who did not fall into line, enforcement that was generally ineffective and often corrupt, an appetite for the stuff among a large section of the populace that was not to be denied, vast criminal enterprises that battened on the huge sums generated by the illicit traffic, and a wave of unprecedented violence.
Substitute “drugs” for “booze,” and you have a history of the past forty years.
We’re not going to give up our guns.* The National Rifle Association, along with its cadre of hunters, hobbyists, and conspiracy cranks, backed up by the Supreme Court, all unmoved by any amount of slaughter in the streets, is poised to thwart any serious effort to scale back the national arsenal, and to punish any politician rash enough to propose such a measure.
That being the case, maybe it’s time to experiment with legalizing drugs (if the GOP can be persuaded to regulate and tax them) to see if the body count declines.
*I encountered a fair amount of flak a while back over a post about the language of the Second Amendment, in which I argued, I think cogently, that the Framers were talking about weapons for militias. People who react without thinking accused me of advocating limiting guns to militias today, but I never said that. We have two centuries of constitutional jurisprudence in which the Second Amendment has developed into a right as established as free speech to individual gun ownership. I don’t contest that, and would have said so if anyone had bothered to ask.
While I was describing what the original intent of the Framers was, I am not an originalist. Originalists today, like those in the 1930s who struck down New Deal legislation, are mainly people who want to use “original intent” to veto any development since 1787 that they do not like. (And they do that by ruling laws unconstitutional, a power the Supreme Court got from Marbury v. Madison, not from the Constitution. Once you argue that judicial review is implicit rather than explicit in the Constitution, you have opened a very wide door.)