Following the recent tragedy in Oregon, I cannot help but agree with President Obama’s assessment: prayers and sentiment are no longer enough in the wake of such wanton violence, not when the decision to take action is available. For too long, Americans have had to live under the fear of random and unexpected scenarios of violence and death for which they are unprepared. Sadly, such events are often all too preventable, yet we sit on our hands. Despite frequent news coverage, many less appalling incidents resulting in death or severe injuries go largely unreported. Unchecked prevalence of this market in our current culture has been directly related not only to murder, but suicides and fatal accidents, and yet, sheer cultural sentiment, supported by massive lobbies, continue to guard against the enactment of common sense laws, hiding beneath the mask of supposed “counter arguments” opposing further regulation. After some basic research, I find the conclusions are nearly unavoidable. We must push our Congress to highly restrict, perhaps even ban, citizens from the ownership and use of guns…and alcohol.
As should be no surprise, alcohol is a much more powerful and effective killer than any firearm in our society. According to the CDC, 1 in 10 deaths of Americans between the ages of 20-64 are directly related to alcohol use. In Oregon, the numbers are 1 in 9. As I became slowly more educated on the arguments for gun restrictions, I began to realize nearly every single argument applies to alcohol as well. The main difference is only that alcohol has proven much more deadly. Here are the arguments in brief:
- The first argument is simple logic. If you make guns less available, then there will be fewer guns and gun related incidents. By the same logic, if you make alcohol less available by restricting or banning alcohol, alcohol related deaths decrease. Of course, these restrictions apply only to those who obey the law, as the NRA and the anti-Prohibitionists will remind us, but decreased availability will almost certainly result in a decrease in incidents. Also, merely because people will disobey the law is not enough reason not to have sensible law. It may be an imperfect solution, but the restrictions will lead the nation in the right direction and gradually decrease related incidents. As law enforcement and culture gradually shift to taking such issues more seriously, illegal establishments serving guns or alcohol will certainly decrease as well, as commercial interest will eventually wane and the perceived risk for criminal perpetration increases.
- The Second Amendment at the time it was enacted clearly did not foresee the incredible availability of weapons capable of such deadly force. Furthermore, the Second Amendment was instated with the concept of a regulated militia in mind, as opposed to a large variety of justice-seeking vigilantes. In contrast, no express right for alcohol consumption or ownership exists in our Constitution apart from basic property rights, which, as obvious in the case of weapons and the existence of taxes, are not absolute. Of course, the Founding Fathers did not prohibit alcohol either, but they could not have foreseen the widespread use and necessity of motor vehicles, which has clearly changed the playing field. Therefore, it is sound to ban both in cases of private use, according to the Constitution.
- Next, guns in their inherent purpose are designed to kill with very minimal skill and physicality required. Alcoholic beverages are designed with no practical purpose aside from inhibiting good sense in a form of self-indulgent escapism, and drinking said beverages also requires minimal skill and physicality. One might say that the designed purposes of either item are clearly disproportionate in terms of yielding undesired outcomes, but let us shift the perspective. One might as well say the express purpose of a gun is to shoot a bullet, but clearly the vast majority of bullets shot in America either while hunting or at a range do not result in human death or injury, because they are used responsibly. The possibility of a bullet causing a human death therefore primarily has to do with the training, situation, and intention of the shooter. If drinkers are irresponsible, though it might not be their original intention, they just as easily kill others or, under alcoholic influence, commit violent crimes. Simply because a majority of Americans exercise responsible use of either guns or alcohol is not an excuse to justify the high frequency of irresponsible use for either product when they serve no inherent benefit to individual or communal livelihood. If we are honest in confronting the many available statistics, both items have a cult of users and abusers who cling to their preferred item for sentiment instead of any realistically useful reason.
- Perhaps the most touted argument of the alcohol-defender is that of the historical failure of Prohibition. However, one might recall that the British attempted to control guns in the colonies just prior to the American Revolution, and obviously, the strict regulations did not work well for them either. The point is that culture changes, and we have the ability to guide that cultural shift. Historical failures are not excuses for failing to do what needs to be done today, and clearly, whatever we are doing now to solve the alcohol problem is not working, as it is currently the third highest preventable cause of death in the United States. Indeed, a majority of adults above the age of 18 do not consume alcohol excessively or irresponsibly, and as law abiding citizens, would likely be able to put the drink down without too much coercion if they were educated about how dire the situation truly was. Over time, with improved law enforcement and the expressed interest in saving lives, the alcoholic and gun cultures can be defeated with patience and perseverance.
- As is very well known, other countries have banned guns effectively, such as Britain and most importantly, Australia. Maybe less known, other countries have banned alcohol effectively as well. One might note that countries with effective bans on alcohol are mostly Middle Eastern nations influenced heavily by Islamic ethics, which are strongly anti-alcohol. However, this simply returns to the need to reshape culture instead of simply accepting a widespread culture of death and assuming there is nothing more that we as a concerned populace can do to affect change. While the meaning of the gun statistics in Australia seems endlessly debatable, we do find that gun crime in both Australia and the US has decreased nearly identically between the years of 1995 and 2007; on the other hand, over the years following the Australian gun ban in 1997, violent crime increased in their country overall by 42.2%. Success and failure in these prohibitions can only be effectively measured over generational spans requiring culture to shift. Measures of success and failure require a realistic and long-term perspective, taking into consideration negative initial reactions as well as relevant anecdotal evidence that can only compile over long lengths of time. On the contrary, the usual arguments (perhaps necessarily) consist of preconceived, desirable interpretations established by finding the most favorable statistics. A holistic answer must address long-term benefit in terms of saving lives, but that term must be seen generationally, as clearly arising issues will differ between times and cultures. Statistics offer limited inductive evidence, but never deductive proof.
- Another typical pro-alcohol argument is that alcohol can be easily made with store bought products in one’s own home, and thus, it cannot be realistically regulated. The same argument applies to methamphetamines, child porn, poison, bombs, and interestingly, guns. One might argue that the required skills and tools available to create guns are much more difficult to acquire than those to make alcohol, but such an argument is a red herring. Both the knowledge and the tools are extremely available (trust me, just google it), and in an illegal market, both the knowledge and tools become much more profitable to obtain and utilize. Furthermore, the ease of doing something illegal does not mean the act itself should not still be illegal. It is easy to sell one’s body for sex, but we still regard prostitution as illegal based on the nation’s view on a woman’s dignity. If one belongs to the pro-prostitution lot, then child porn or domestic abuse are two fitting alternatives. The ease of creating alcohol is not a justification for its legality.
- Of course, we have current restrictions on both guns and alcohol consumption; perhaps we need only to reconsider the most effective regulations. However, even with the most stringent restrictions in regards to whom can legally purchase guns, background checks are imperfect, waiting periods only forestall the inevitable, and the firearms often get into the wrong hands through theft, private sales, or gift giving. Similarly, we do have restrictions on who can legally purchase alcohol, but obviously, reaching the age of 21 is no sign of responsibility. Furthermore, fake IDs, lack of physical barriers in private households, and adult purchases with intention to share with minors and other irresponsible adults make any such restrictions implausible. Once either guns or alcohol leave the established providers, there is so way to track or enforce their appropriate use.
- Both firearms and alcohol have strong correlations with suicide. In fact, I would argue alcohol is the more dangerous factor. There exists any number of available means of committing suicide apart from guns, but alcohol directly affects one’s rationality and inhibitions, which is where the true fight against suicide lies. Indeed, according to a recent study, almost one-fourth of suicide victims in the United States are legally intoxicated at the time of death. Restricting availability would likely save lives in this regard as well.
- Naturally, most mass homicides in the United States utilize firearms. Interestingly, alcohol abuse is more highly linked to the profiles of homicidal shooters than mental illness or illegal drugs. The profiles of criminals incarcerated for violent crimes indicate that about 40% had been drinking at the time they committed these offenses. Indeed, apart from gun availability, the chief link between mass shooters, more than mental illness or drug abuse, is alcohol. One may argue that this is not causation, but rather correlation, yet alcohol abuse certainly does not assist in stopping these killers. Rather, it likely eases their natural inhibitions against committing violence. In terms of mass shootings, gun availability may provide the means, but alcohol likely assists in prompting the will. Argument of correlation and causation at this point may be debatable, but the same argument would apply to mental illness and other factors heavily focused on prevention that are often taken for granted. In either case, its consistent presence is certainly unsettling.
- Another claim is that America has a gun violence problem when compared to the rest of the world, and the statistics displaying our high threshold of gun-related deaths are widespread. Additionally, America also has a serious problem with alcohol related deaths. I have often heard that America should strive to imitate Europe in this regard; they argue that Europe is so lax with alcohol that the culture naturally encourages responsible and reasonable drinking habits. In fact, Europe is the only area of the world that consistently outperforms the United States in alcohol related deaths.
- Many pro-gun advocates argue that guns can be used for sports or hunting, and the government should not infringe on these activities. I have heard even Australia has regulations instated to enable citizens to participate in these activities with their own firearms. However, no matter one’s stance on this issue, no serious likeness exists in the realm of alcoholic drinking, unless one would count beer pong as an amateur sport. Of course, any games that result in excessive drinking only increases risk in modern circumstances by the sheer nature of encouraging further drinking, whereas hunters and sportsmen utilize their weapons in much safer contexts.
- Apparently, according to a number of articles, America has the highest gun ownership per capita in the world. At the very least, Americans recognize firearms are widely owned and distributed in the States. Thus, most people probably know of someone who owns a gun that they could obtain if desired through proper planning and forethought, even if they could not buy one from a commercial vendor. Naturally, the United States also has an extremely high number of people who own alcoholic products at any given time. The difference being that alcohol is much less secure and more ubiquitous, only hidden and contained behind a refrigerator door. If someone was unable to obtain alcohol from a commercial vendor, the neighbor’s fridge would be nearly as accessible.
- A high level of training is necessary, or at least encouraged, to be able to responsibly wield and use firearms in sudden circumstances of self-defense, especially in public locations. Often this facet of the argument does not receive enough attention, as many poorly trained gun wielders may hurt themselves or others. However, a very low level of education is necessary for responsible alcohol use, and while that education is prevalent and often obvious, basic principles of consumption continue to be ignored, as attested by the continuation of alcohol related death. Thus, mere education is not in itself a solution for either product, even if it has some marginal effects.
- Gun advocates might maintain that weapons are necessary in fighting back against a potentially tyrannical United States government. The usual retort is that a rag-tag group of citizens could not possibly resist the might of the modern United States military, with its superior technology and organization. No matter where one stands on whether the government should rightfully have the monopoly on arms in the modern era, alcohol has no such idealistic purpose to stand upon. I have not bothered to research the effectiveness of alcoholic escapism in combating personal problems.
- One common theme in limiting gun violence is to limit legal magazine sizes and types of weapons that can be legally owned. Similarly, perhaps limiting alcohol content and types of alcohol in circulation would help the problem. While this thought may deserve some credit, bullets still kill and alcohol still influences the mind. A perpetrator of either item can still easily find a way to kill mass numbers of people (by having multiple legal firearms for example) or get irresponsibly drunk (either by creating more potent drinks through distillation and other methods, or simply increasing the quantity of the beverages consumed).
- While gun free zones might assist in limiting areas where firearms accidents can occur around mass numbers of people, one cannot help but notice a majority of mass shootings occur in these areas, as they tend to be sensitive areas that draw a large population, such as schools, churches, or theaters. One common misnomer is that the shooting incident in Fort Hood was not a gun-free zone, but as anyone in the military can attest, military members do not walk around their base with loaded weapons. Rather, weapons and ammunition are heavily controlled on military posts. Therefore, gun-free zones, to include military bases which likely do have highly efficient law enforcement response times, appear to have limited to no effect in controlling mass shootings; this form of regulation seems obviously ineffective in itself. Alcohol has a reasonable comparison in that there are laws against public intoxication or performing certain tasks while intoxicated (such as driving). However, these very restrictions are consistently violated. I might mention that most popular drinking establishments are a car ride away, another case of businesses indirectly encouraging illegal and deadly behavior. In both cases, areas and activities where guns and alcohol can do the most harm continue to prove vulnerable to death and violence despite strict law enforcement acting to the contrary.
- One might argue that we should leave it to the states to determine their own gun policies in order to measure their effectiveness without invoking federal power. However, gun laws are nearly impossible to support at state and local levels due to the consumer’s ability to buy prohibited weapons in nearby states. Clearly, the same principles of commerce and transportation between states apply to alcohol. In order to apply effective restrictions, the government must enact law at the federal level. One might argue that guns and alcohol can still be easily smuggled in from other countries, especially through the Mexican border. While this is doubtlessly a legitimate fear, the national borders can and must be heavily secured and controlled in order to avoid severe and dangerous weapon and alcohol proliferation at the borders. (Allow that realization to slowly sink in.)
- Finally, both alcohol and guns are common contributors to domestic violence and accidental injuries in the households. Alcohol especially is commonly found as connected to any number of severe crimes, from domestic abuse to sexual assault or rape. For further unsettling facts associated with alcohol prevalence, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides a number of jarring facts about its unquestionable societal detriment.
Whether one agrees with me or not, my point here is to show that common arguments that demand gun control can almost unanimously be applied to similar restrictions against alcohol, and advocates for free alcohol use have much less ground to stand upon, either based in ideals or statistics. Naturally, all analogies break down at some point, and I imagine a few of the bolder readers have already scoured the internet for their evidences to contradict one claim or another. Just pondering the comparison, I imagine one could argue that death caused by guns only require a trigger pull, as opposed to much more complicated and incidental circumstances that would require alcohol use to result in death. Yet against all odds, alcohol is undeniably the greater killer. Of course, I am well aware of the consequences and lessons learned from our previous attempt at Prohibition, and I will provide you a relevant link that discusses the associated issues it presented. Nevertheless, prior to that amendment, the arguments were overwhelmingly in favor of Prohibition, and the negative results were highly unexpected by all the experts and statisticians. If even part of my argument holds, it follows that those who argue for more restrictions on guns also should argue for more restrictions on alcohol. Furthermore, assuming the purpose of those who argue to restrict guns is to reduce unnecessary death and violence, I struggle to see how they could not argue all the more vehemently for a solution to the alcohol epidemic. If the American people simply recognized the amount of death, violence, and societal pain inflicted by alcohol, one would think the responsible adult would be willing to put the bottle down. However, people are not so selfless.
In conclusion, I realize Prohibition might not look the same as a ban or increased restrictions on guns (I am not a prophet); however, I also ask that those who advocate for such laws understand the psychological issue from the alternative side. Imagine that you and your family and friends have enjoyed alcohol responsibly for all your life, but finally the government declared your possession of it an inherent danger to society. Would you be so quick to give up something you love and enjoy? If you were someone trained in the use of firearms and knew how to prevent and effectively neutralize mass shooters, would you feel the government justified in taking away the tool that may have served you effectively in the military or law enforcement when your family is involved? Finally, if you have difficulty separating your own logic for increased gun control away from the logic for increased restrictions on alcohol, I recommend pursuing deeper education to improve your position on both issues and flee incoherence and hypocrisy (unless you believe the argument holds). We should move away from simply sharing pop statistics and incomplete arguments and acknowledge the difficulty of the debate in brotherhood with those whom you disagree. The United States is a free and stable nation, and many of those men and women wielding weapons helped create and maintain that very reality.