Only a gun could have given a young madman in Connecticut the means to kill 26 people, including 20 little kids, in a brief morning rampage. On the same day in a village in central China another madman with a knife attacked 21, including 20 kids, but killed none. Seven were injured enough to require medical attention, only two severely enough to be hospitalized.
These incidents put in stark relief the difference between a society that bans firearms and one in which guns are treated as a cultural birthright. Our sickening headlines of psychotic rampages typically feature double-digit death tolls: Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine. In China, Japan, Korea and other nations with strict gun controls, the death tolls are far lower.
Few would dispute that the easy availability of guns plays a role in the scale of the slaughter that can be wrought in moments of madness. The problem is that as things stand meaningful gun control is a politically hopeless proposition in the US. Part of it is the way our culture has romanticized firearms. The bigger part is our irrational legal scheme which preserves lucrative drug franchises for those most inclined to use violence as a vocational skill.
As long as our drug prohibition provides job security and immense profits for the most criminally inclined, they will amass arsenals to protect their franchises against others like them. As long as our criminal class keeps and uses automatic weapons, a majority of law-abiding citizens will be reluctant to give up the perceived security provided by their firearms.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” said President Obama at Newtown after visiting Sandy Hook Elementary School. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”
Those words are coming from a president who has visited the site of four mass shootings. Yet he knows well the impossible odds facing him if he were to undertake the effort of trying to end the sickening string of easy slaughters.
The only way to bring about a meaningful change in our gun laws is to begin by dismantling the franchises that offer obscene profits to those willing to arm themselves with high-caliber automatic weapons to stake out and defend turf. The weapons trickle down so even the lowliest punks pack automatic pistols. That situation ensures that a certain number of families will keep their own arsenals for a sense of security. Arsenals like those make possible the mass slaughters.
There’s nothing conceptually difficult about ridding ourselves of these lucrative criminal franchises. The only tricky part is making people understand that it will take a two-step process to rid our society of both drugs and guns.
The first step entails letting drugs become a legal commodity. We may not want anyone to use narcotics but if we aren’t able to dissuade a certain number of people from using them, we can at least make sure they’re safe and very very cheap.
Once they are legalized, narcotics can be produced and distributed at maybe 5-8% of what they’re being sold for on the streets. By making them legal and cheap, not only would we sap the obscene profits that fuel criminal empires and pay for huge arsenals and the thugs willing to use them, we would also take away most of the motivation for the countless petty crimes and prostitution by which users earn the means to keep themselves in street drugs.
We can then bleed the glamor right out of drug use by offering free drugs to all who wish to register as drug users. Providing free narcotics would cost us virtually nothing compared to the tens of billions a year we now spend on drug enforcement and prisons, not to mention the staggering societal cost of all the crimes being committed on our streets by drug users trying to pay for their next fix.
As the past has abundantly demonstrated, any effort at curtailing gun violence without legalizing all drugs is doomed to failure.
Let’s hope President Obama will use his immense powers of clarification to make Americans understand the cost to good families — like those who sent their kids to Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday — of our irrational drug laws and the massive civilian arsenals we keep to protect ourselves against the criminal armies funded by those drug laws.