Guns, drugs and alcohol

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted December 11, 2000

What do guns, drugs, and alcohol have in common? They are all highly portable, highly prized by many people, and can be abused. Each has been the object of societal sanctions.

This beer raid in 1926 apparently stopped the flow of all alcohol...
This beer raid in 1926 apparently stopped the flow of all alcohol...

A grand, but foolish experiment with alcohol prohibition was tried from 1920 to 1933. The dreadful results are well documented. Drug prohibition has lasted much longer and provides an excellent example of how a prohibition program works in modern times.

In the name of protecting the public, the war on drugs has led to greater government power in many areas. The once unbreakable line between the police and military has crumbled. Our prisons overflow with people convicted of drug related crimes, but drugs are more available than ever. New terms like "body cavity search", "no-knock entry", "racial profiling", and "stop and frisk" have entered our vocabulary.

SWAT teams that were originally formed to rescue hostages now execute deadly nocturnal raids on houses designated by informants of doubtful reliability or on houses of people who annoy local authorities. Guilty and innocent alike are being killed in increasing numbers.

Laws allowing enforcement agencies to keep confiscated drug wealth often determine the targets of anti-drug raids. Police corruption is a constant problem. Criminal gangs have flourished under drug prohibition, much as they did in the 1920's. Smugglers and gangsters literally owe their livelihood to the war on drugs.

It is becoming painfully obvious that the cure is worse than the disease. Yet some people appear to have learned nothing from alcohol prohibition or drug prohibition and insist that we experience the joys of gun prohibition. There are indications that the same counterproductive tactics will be used. Some of the worst abuses of government force in recent years were precipitated by technical and victimless gun law violations.

The media has played an important role by dramatizing the ill effects of drug abuse, while completely ignoring the way that crime and violence are worsened by drug prohibition. Perhaps some strange taboo prevents an honest look at the big picture.

Media treatment of the gun issue is very much the same. Stories involving inappropriate use of firearms are front page news, but there is a virtual blackout on positive stories about armed self defense or the way that stricter gun laws lead to higher levels of crime and violence.

Opponents of both the war on drugs and the war on guns have adopted the same term --unintended consequences-- to describe the way in which stronger laws paradoxically cause more crime and violence. Their web sites are almost mirror images of each other, except that they complain about the corruption, lack of accountability and violent depredations of different government agencies. These groups are isolated at either end of the political spectrum, but their common interest is obvious.

Those who oppose the disastrous war on drugs and those who oppose the growing war on guns are starting to reach out to each other. They are setting aside ideological differences and exploring their common interest. If these two groups can show the way, there are other groups who might join a crusade for fewer laws and less government interference in our daily lives.

Perhaps some enterprising politician will sense this natural alliance and use it to further his or her career. Republican politicians have paid lip service to the concept of a smaller, less intrusive government, but are unwilling to make the ideological shift necessary to exploit it.

There is no way to predict how much success this potential political alliance could have, since it will be opposed by many politicians who jealously protect government power. Even so it has the potential to redraw the political map for decades to come.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws which can be found on the web at He may be reached at

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