Law professor and Constitutional Law specialist Eugene Volokh (of Volokh Conspiracy renown) has weighed into the often hysterical gun control debate with useful perspective by suggesting an analogy between alcohol and guns. Some highlights of his post, titled “So What Are We Going To Do About It?:
- “So what are we suggesting should be done about the shootings? If we’re not suggesting gun controls (as opposed to proposals such as allowing teachers to be armed, increased concealed carry rights outside schools, providing school guards, and the like), the argument goes, we’re not taking gun tragedies seriously.”
- “Every day, about 30 to 35 people are killed in the U.S. in gun homicides or gun accidents (not counting gun suicides or self-inflicted accidental shootings). And every day, likely about 30 to 35 people are killed in homicides where the killer was under the influence of alcohol, or in alcohol-related drunk driving accidents, again not including those who died in accidents caused by their own alcohol consumption. If you added in gun suicides on one side and those people whose alcohol consumption killed themselves on the other, the deaths would tilt much more on the side of alcohol use, but I generally like to segregate deaths of the user from deaths of others. So what are we going to do about it? When are we going to ban alcohol? When are we going to institute more common-sense alcohol control measures? Well, we tried, and the conventional wisdom is that the cure was worse than the disease — which is why we went back to a system where alcohol is pretty freely available, despite the harm it causes (of which the deaths are only part). We now prohibit various kinds of reckless behavior while using alcohol. But we try to minimize the burden on responsible alcohol users, by generally allowing alcohol purchase and possession, subject to fairly light regulations.”
- “And if someone says, “you’re obviously not serious about preventing drunk driving and alcohol-related homicide, because you’re not proposing any new alcohol bans or alcohol sales restrictions,” our answer is generally, (1) “just because there’s a problem out there doesn’t mean that we should impose new regulations that are likely ineffective and possibly counterproductive,” and (2) “punish misuse of alcohol, rather than burdening law-abiding users.”
- “My point is simply that the right answer to “so what are we going to do about it?,” even when the “it” is horrible, is sometimes “not much.”
Do read the whole article. Prof. Volohk is a libertarian, and I am not. I believe that government often has a legitimate role to play by regulating and even prohibiting harmful substances and conduct that on balance corrupt or otherwise undermine a productive, peaceful, healthy and safe society. His analogy is excellent however, because the relevant similarities between guns and alcohol are illuminating. Just as alcohol was a traditional, long-standing, accepted and legal components of the culture before Prohibition, so are guns today. Both guns and alcohol are safe when used legally and responsibly, and dangerous, even deadly, when abused. The differences between guns and alcohol are also striking and worth pondering. Guns are undeniably useful tools, and have significant social utility, far more so than alcohol. On a purely utilitarian basis, the social burdens of alcohol abuse are not outweighed in any way by the pleasures of moderate alcohol consumption; it is difficult to make the argument that society would not be better off—healthier, more productive, safer— if there were no alcoholic beverages at all. With guns, the opposite is true. Except to irrational anti-firearms fanatics, guns are useful, valuable and beneficial in their place.
Hosannahs to Prof. Volokh for reminding us how a reasonable analyst considers a public policy issue: responsibly, unemotionally, and fairly, without accusations, exaggerations or false assumptions.
I wonder what Piers Morgan would call him….
Source: Volokh Conspiracy