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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.)



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:49 AM | | Comments (11)


I'm afraid you're singing to the choir, but keep singing anyway.

I suggest reading the Heller decision of the Supreme Court for a discussion of the nature of the right to keep and bear arms. Best regards. PS: Our mixed relationship [serial comma, no serial comma] is gonna be going on a year now, still happy together!

Best regards.

Also worth reading the Stevens dissent on that opinion.

Just substitute "guns" for booze and you have the history of the past 40 years as far as I can tell.

I agree with your conclusion, though I don't understand how getting rid of the guns could possibly precede getting rid of the black market.

Can't have a militia if the militiamen don't have arms to bring with them. That's all you need to know.

As for the war on drugs, I tend to agree with you. While I'm not prepared to say that heroin should be sold over the counter again, taxing and regulating is probably a whole lot better idea than just blanket prohibition.

I've been shot from a passing car and yet find Stevens' dissent in Heller an unremarkable screed against individual rights.

One of the first (painful) lessons I learnt in the early days of the internet was, "Never mention guns".

Regardless of what Justice McIntyre thinks of hte 2nd Amendment, those decisions are up to the legislatures and, occasionally, the courts. Heaven help us ei ther way, but there it is. THe idea is to keep guns way from the crooks, who do the most damage with guns. If they can't get a gun, a baseball bat or a knife will do nicely. Or a nasty pair of fists. No one has yet found a way to control human behavior before the act. But I suspect people like the Permanent Mayor of New York City are working on that.

Ms. Terse is most indulgent to permit a citizen to hold an opinion about a matter of public policy, and the citizen is pleased to be reciprocally generous, even if the connection between the comment and the substance of the post seems somewhat tenuous.

A non-answer answer.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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