Gun Violence Solution: End the War on Drugs

Alcohol prohibition was instituted in 1920, and was repealed in 1933. Notice the upticks and resulting downturns in the homicide rate?

I still don’t have an answer beyond shoring up laws and ambiguities around domestic violence in the United States as a specific solution to the phenomenon of public mass shootings, but I did want to go over one of two solutions I would propose addressing gun violence more broadly.

As I’ve previously detailed, in 2019, 14,861 people in the country died from firearm homicide (firearms were the means for about 75 percent of homicides in 2018). The other 60 percent are suicides, and the remaining 3 percent are unintentional, undetermined, or from legal intervention, and the final 0.2 percent are from public mass shootings.

In other words, as a society, what can we do about that 14,861 persons who die from firearm homicide, and the 1,161 persons who die from unintentional, undetermined, or from legal intervention? Generally speaking, we know that the majority of those in the latter category are from legal intervention (the number is generally somewhere around 1,000, but governments notoriously do not track this well), and unintentional and undetermined are smaller at about 500 and 300, respectively.

We also know that about half of those 14,861 are intimate partner, domestic violence situations. So, what’s the other half that we can deal with? It’s been difficult for me to find specific numbers on the break down of that other half, so I’ll just turn to the federal government. The Office of Justice Programs, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a late 1990s report that the “drug market is a major contributor to the nation’s homicide rate” and that “drug dealers are among those most likely to carry weapons.”

Something glaring is missing here.

The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, which is now the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, has a nifty picture detailing the roots of community gun violence in under-resourced black and Hispanic communities, with half of firearm homicides occurring in just 127 cities. The roots the EFSGV points to include concentrated poverty, income inequality, underfunded public housing, underperforming schools, under-resourced public services, lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness, and easy access to guns by people at elevated risk for violence.

All of those make sense as roots, but I think they are missing one of the biggest factors for community violence, and surely a large chunk of half of the homicides we’re talking about: the war on drugs. I’m not like other libertarians or anarchists or progressives (yes, even progressive types have proposed this as a solution!) who think ending the drug war would be a panacea for solving violence and other societal ills, but I do vehemently believe that it would be a net positive for our society in myriad ways, including on gun violence.

The simple fact of the matter is that prohibition (black markets) breeds violence, including violent encounters with police (the legal intervention category). End prohibition, and the resulting black markets, and you curb much of that violence. Why do we know this to be the case? We have a ready case study in the effects of prohibition and the resulting end of prohibition right here in the United States: alcohol prohibition. And besides, prohibition doesn’t even work on its stated goal: to reduce the thing which you are seeking to end.

In addition, there are spillover effects of the American war on drugs for Latin American countries. In Mexico, for example, hundreds of thousands of people (yes) have thought to be connected to the war on drugs there, of which the U.S. plays a big role. Then, when people try to flee such violence to come to the U.S., we deny them entry and safe harbor, but I digress.

And the other benefit of ending the war on drugs would be to dramatically curtail the number of overdoses in the country. As with alcohol prohibition, a side effect of prohibition is to make the item that is illegal more dangerous to consume, thus, more deadly (this is known as the “iron law of prohibition”).

I could continue to go down the rabbit hole here showing how disastrous and awful the war on drugs has been for the country, for the crime it has spurred, the destruction it has wrought in how police enforce (and enrich themselves through) the prohibition, and in the way it is specifically disproportionally targets minorities in the country. But suffice it to say, I think if we wanted to alleviate much of the gun violence in the country (as well as the role of police in our society, and the resulting mass incarceration that goes along with it), we would begin reconsidering our decades-long failure in waging a war on drugs.

Granted, we still have difficulty getting buy-in from the political class at the federal level and across the country in even legalizing marijuana, despite overwhelming support from Americans, so, I know full-stop ending the war on drugs is a very unlikely outcome, but we continue to wage it to our detriment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s