If You Want To Lower Gun Crime, End The War On Drugs


In The Atlantic, Noah Smith details some fascinating numbers about gun crimes. Many anti-gun activists and commentators have cited a study which suggests that gun deaths will surpass traffic deaths by 2015.

That’s troubling, to say the least, but a little misleading. Of that total number only a fraction – about 9,000 or 1/3 of the total – are gun murders of the sort that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, and that fraction is shrinking because as Smith writes, “murder by gun has been falling steadily since the early 1990s.”

What makes up the bulk of that growing number are gun suicides (accidental gun deaths, for what it’s worth, are holding steady at around 500 deaths per year). That’s troubling, but not exactly the sort of “gun crime” that most Americans view as a valid justification for gun control. Those bent on ending their lives have plenty of options. Controlling guns isn’t likely to fix that problem.

But even with gun murders representing a small and shrinking part of the gun deaths, is there a way we can reduce them even faster? Yes, and that way isn’t gun control. It’s ending the “War on Drugs.”

From Smith’s article:

Reliable statistics on the number of drug-related murders in the United States are hard to come by. A 1994 Department of Justice report suggested that between a third and a half of U.S. homicides were drug-related, while a recent Center for Disease Control study found that the rate varied between 5% and 25% (a 2002 Bureau of Justice report splits the difference). Part of this variance is that “drug-related” murders are hard to define. There are murders committed by people on drugs, murders committed by addicts to get money for drugs, turf-war murders by drug suppliers, and murders committed by gangs whose principal source of income is drug sales.

But very few would argue that the illegal drug trade is a significant cause of murders. This is a straightforward result of America’s three-decade-long “drug war.” Legal bans on drug sales lead to a vacuum in legal regulation; instead of going to court, drug suppliers settle their disputes by shooting each other. Meanwhile, interdiction efforts raise the price of drugs by curbing supply, making local drug supply monopolies (i.e., gang turf) a rich prize to be fought over. And stuffing our overcrowded prisons full of harmless, hapless drug addicts forces us to give accelerated parole to hardened killers.

Ending the drug war would involve reducing all of these incentives to murder. Treating addicts in hospitals and rehab centers, instead of sticking them in prisons, would reduce demand for drugs, lowering the price and starving gangs of income while reducing their incentive to wage turf wars.

Of course, there are negatives to ending drugs too. Use could go up should using drugs lose their stigma, and that could have a deleterious impact on our society and economy. But then, I’m not entirely convinced that the “War on Drugs” is really stopping all that many people who want drugs from getting them.

You can buy marijuana, cocaine and meth in just about every single community in America. So what, exactly, are we accomplishing with drug prohibition?

As usual, the prohibition of alcohol offers lessons. The enactment of alcohol prohibition lead to a spike in crime is gangs seeking to serve the newly created black market for alcohol went to war with one another, as well as government prohibition agents. “In a study of over 30 major U.S cities during the prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%,” reports Wikipedia. “Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicide by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6% and police department costs rose by 11.4%.”

In all the discussion and debate about mass shootings that have taken place over the last week, I’ve read one interesting statistic cited over and over again: Instances of mass shootings actually peaked in 1929. That date isn’t random. That was the height of alcohol prohibition, and a year which saw Al Capone’s infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Ending the war on drugs wouldn’t end all gun crime, but it would end a lot of it. And ending the war on drugs would create new problems and headaches for America, but those problems are preferable than the problems created by drug prohibition.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Reynard Vulpes

    The reasoning was sound. Would YOU accept the conclusions and findings of a study that set out to promote a single viewpoint, such as “guns are bad,” or would you be more inclined to accept one that studied good versus bad?

    The study was slanted. And even at that, they came out with the finding that no correlation could be established between the increase or decrease of gun crime related to more or less prohibitory gun laws.

    In other words, as usual, they wasted our tax dollars.

    I’m not a republican, and in fact believe that party has been totally preempted by evil forces out to destroy this country and complete the taking over by a small band of plutocrats.

    But they were absolutely right in their demand .. the point hidden by the gun prohibitionists … .that NO STUDIES BE DONE THAT HAVE THE GOAL OF SUPPORTING GUN CRIME IS GUN OWNERSHIP DRIVEN.

    That’s logical and right. Research is useless when it sets out with a predetermined single theory and ONLY looks for proof of that, and not evidence that would refute it.

  • Reynard Vulpes

    It’s done no such thing. We already HAVE all that data, in the FBI, DOJ, and CDC archives. And we continue to collect it each year, and no “industry,” has tried to stop any of those from collection and analysis of that data.

    Why lie?

  • Reynard Vulpes

    Absolutely. The problem is the facts as found in the three sources I cited, do NOT support the agenda of the gun prohibitionists.

    In fact is defeats their claims. The death rates from guns continues to drop, most significantly in murder, even justifiable homicides are down, and it shows that suicides, while level over the years as to rates, is mean independent. Take away guns and the suicide rate doesn’t change. Canada tried that. Got a spate of jumpers that SPLAT brought the rate right back up to pre handgun ban levels.

  • Reynard Vulpes

    Oh do show us how armed guards are a bad thing. Everywhere the “armed guards,” we call police responded the perps either self destroyed or were stopped.

    In fact here and there in mass shooting attempt armed citizens effected the end of a shooter’s spree.

    My favorite was Pearl MS, where a middle school vice principal run to his private vehicle and retrieved his own .45, and stopped two shooters. Later it was discovered they ahd intended, when they were done at his school, to go on to the nearby highschool and do some more killing.

    So much for good guys with guns NOT being effective deterrent to bad guys with guns.

    • http://proof-proofpositive.blogspot.com/ Proof

      You jump to nearly as many conclusions as the dear deluded Susan. I never said that armed guards are a “bad thing”. I said his “idea of putting armed police in every school is a bad one”.

      Now holster your outrage and indignation and try to imagine a realistic and responsible way to protect our children.

      Do you have any idea of exactly how many elementary schools, secondary schools, high schools and preschools there are in this country? Take a guess. Google it if you like. It’s a lot. I mean A LOT! Multiply that number by the number of armed policemen we would need to protect the children against all risk, which would be higher on larger campuses. Now double that number if they have extra curricular activities.

      Take that number and multiply it by the salaries needed to attract skilled and competent personnel. Now double that because of benefits.

      Now ask yourself: Is there sufficient risk at EVERY school in the nation to warrant that response? Are there a sufficient number of qualified individuals willing to take those positions?

      Consider instead, a scenario where the school district encourages and perhaps subsidizes (but certainly doesn’t oppose) teachers with CCWs. Willing teachers could receive training and bring their personal weapons (concealed) to school, or the schools could provide the weapons.

      Part of the theory of deterrence is not knowing your opponent’s strength. Armed guards can be accounted for. If students and slackers and evil doers do not know which of their teachers or how many may be carrying, even an unarmed teacher may serve as deterrence in that situation.

      Putting armed police in every school is a bad idea because it is impractical, unrealistic and unaffordable. Arming or not disarming teachers, on the rare occasion that they are needed, is not.

  • Reynard Vulpes

    It’s already illegal to sell stolen guns, the Black Market. And “gun markets,” require background checks for retail sales by FFL gun sellers. Private sales at gun shows, which I presume you meant, are tiny numbers, and ALL gunshow sales amount to less than 1.5% of guns involved in crime. Thus some smaller percentage of the total guns are private background free sales.

    Rather a waste of time to “crack down.”

    They had no effect on production of liquor during Prohibition, other than to drive up the illicit trade and production. It would be the same with guns. It IS the same with guns in fact.

  • Reynard Vulpes

    Anecdotes, unless you can collect a statistically viable number for analysis, are just stories.

    And please define a gun “enthusiast,” if you don’t mind. The owner of a single gun can be an enthusiast. I know a few Olympic shooters that only have one principle gun. They are quite enthusiastic about it. Just like a know a few violin enthusiasts.

    That doesn’t make all violin owners bad boys with strings. Now does it?