Drugs, Guns and American Freedom
Just the other week I was talking with a friend who had America’s drug problem all figured out.
According to him, the solution was simple — obvious, even. Comprehensive legalization, he said, was the only way to climb out of this dark hole we’ve fallen into. Decriminalize everything: top to bottom, best to worst, good to evil. End the drug war and redirect those resources towards treating the problem instead of reacting to it.
His argument went something like this: “Drugs aren’t the problem, people are. Pills don’t leap off the table and dive down your throat, heroine doesn’t inject itself. Drugs, by themselves, have never killed anyone in history — people have killed themselves with drugs.”
It was not a popular notion to express at the dinner table (which several people made very clear to him). But I liked what he was getting at. That idea appealed to me, not just because it makes sense, but because it is a familiar argument — one that has been used before to protect something most Americans are very attached to.
Ask any card-carrying member of the NRA and they’ll tell you something very similar, straight up: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Using guns.
Inanimate objects are not capable of violence, the reasoning goes, and therefore cannot be blamed for the tens of thousands of lives lost to them annually in this country, or anywhere else. You don’t blame the horse for bearing its rider into town — even if that rider happens to be death himself.
Strange, isn’t it? That the same argument is employed by both drug pundits and gun lovers – two groups typically vehemently opposed to the other’s agenda. But, the root of both issues is the same: freedom. Freedom to choose. Freedom to consume whatever chemicals you want, and freedom to buy and own whatever kinds of firearms you like or need. It is one of the most basic, and fundamental cultural discussions in America: To free, or not to free? That is the question.
And the answer, should be the same for both guns and drugs. Consistency is important when it comes to things like this.
However, the current situation is anything but consistent.
Look: the US has one of the most liberal attitudes towards gun ownership in the world. Guns are everywhere in this country, they are easy to get, and they are something that you’d have to pry out of our cold dead hands if you wanted to take them away. The right to bear arms is not something that this country is willing or ready to renegotiate, and that is something that conservatives have made very clear. Never mind “death tolls” or “domestic terror rates” — guns are part of our culture, they made this country what it is today and many people (including myself) honestly just enjoy owning them. Maybe because they get a sense of security from firearms, maybe because they just think they’re cool.
Drugs however are a different story. Unless you want opioids or antidepressants, you’re going to have to go to the black market to find what you’re looking for. The unregulated, unsupervised, untrustworthy market, where criminals and con-men often try to cheat their customers out of a quality product. Is this real LSD, or did I just buy wet blotter paper? Is this pure cocaine, or is it cut with fentanyl? How do I know you didn’t just get these mushrooms at the grocery store?
I’ve bought bunk drugs before and it’s never fun. In some cases, it can be deadly. Buying drugs in America is a gamble, always — even if you know your dealer like a brother.
Which raises the question: would America be better off just making it all legal? Would we be a freer, healthier society if we legalized drugs like we’ve legalized guns?
I, for one, think so.
Done wisely, it could eliminate cartel violence. It would end the drug war and free up a lot of resources for treatment centers, addiction research and rehabilitation programs for addicts. It would give the government a chance to regulate safety and provide unadulterated drugs at “safe use centers” (free of fentanyl and other deadly contaminates). It would drastically reduce crime, throw open the doors for legitimate entrepreneurship, diminish overdose rates, establish new streams of tax revenue, and allow for new research into therapeutic and medicinal uses for many currently criminalized substances.
All this, plus it would set the stage for a psychedelic revolution that would put the 60’s to shame.
That seems unlikely, though. Even in a place like America, where we preach of freedom and free will, free choice and the pursuit of happiness, we can barely legalize weed. A flower. Recreationally legalizing PCP and MDMA like we have recreationally legalized firearms may be a challenge. But it could be done, and it could be done to great benefit to this country. America could learn a lot if our government spent more time and money unrepentantly studying addiction and the therapeutic applications for psychedelic substances.
And, realistically, if we got everyone smoking weed and high on mushrooms, we might just be able to do something about our violence problem, too.
So what? You might ask. Do we just throw high powered machine guns, ammunition and blocks of cocaine out onto the streets? Do we just let people buy heroine at Walmart, down the aisle from shotguns and assault rifles? Should America just make it okay for everyone to buy whatever narcotics and however many firearms they want?!
No. Absolutely not. But, interestingly, the solution is again the same for both guns and drugs: regulation. Establish background checks to make sure that people can psychologically handle what they’re buying. Background checks that make sure you aren’t a criminal that’s buying these things for nefarious reasons; that record how much of what you’ve purchased and how recently; that dot all the T’s and cross every I and cover all the bases to make sure that it’s okay for you to be buying whatever it is you’re buying. Rules to guide people, without controlling them, without telling them which chemicals they can and can’t consume, what firearms they can and can’t own.
It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s at least an achievable one. If we’re going to have any semblance of a “society”, I think we can all agree we need rules to govern things like these. But, they should be as lenient as possible — as loose and as open-minded as is practical. This place we’re in now is inconsistent. We can legally buy deadly weapons online, without proof of sanity, but psychoactive drugs, no matter how natural or safe or healthy, are off the table completely.
That, to me, is a two-face form of freedom — freedom that isn’t entirely free.
Perhaps my friend was right, perhaps he did have America’s drug problem figured out. The more I think about it, the more I agree with what he said. And the more I wish that we could make guns and drugs equally licit and available in this country.
Because as far as I’m concerned, they are both welcome instruments in a world that’s fighting to hold back its own insanity.