Alcohol, Guns and Double Standards

by William Skink

When Missoula officials get desperate to do something—anything—to address a dire situation, that something is usually short-sighted, ineffective and fraught with unintended consequences.

I observed this a few years ago when we were told intoxicated homeless people downtown necessitated the passing of ordinances to ban sitting on sidewalks. Caitlin Copple told stories of women being chased down the sidewalks, and somehow that was suppose to be enough justification for trying to criminalize sitting on sidewalks.

Luckily, City Councilman Adam Hertz kept Missoula from getting sued by the ACLU, and those efforts to criminalize sitting on sidewalks were reconsidered.

Well, Missoula’s city council is once again desperate to do something—anything—to address gun violence and their efforts, if successful, will be ineffective and fraught with unintended consequences. This week’s Indy has another article on this gun fight, and it opens with the likely impacts on the Missoula gun show:

Hayes Otoupalik has run the Missoula Gun Show for 47 years, regularly drawing thousands of enthusiasts to the Adams Center for the state’s oldest and largest event of its kind. But if gun control advocates have their way with the Missoula City Council, Otoupalik says the tradition will soon end.

“You’re just going to kill the Missoula Gun Show,” he says. “It’s going to be dead.”

Otoupalik can barely contain his frustration as he talks about a proposal before council that would extend instant background checks to all firearms sales within city limits, including at gun shows. He yells into the phone, veering between arguments for why he thinks it’s a bad idea.

Rather than keep guns away from criminals, he says, a background check requirement would simply deter law-abiding enthusiasts from his event. Background checks cost up to $25 in fees, plus a few minutes of paperwork, and some customers oppose the federal system on principle. Otoupalik is convinced they’ll go elsewhere in Montana instead of submitting to the hassle and expense.

I bet when proponents of this ordinance, like Pete Talbot, read that quote, they shake with rage that economic considerations could trump municipal efforts to close the loophole on private gun transfers. If it could save just one life, they say, it’s worth it.

Yesterday I read a great post at Zerohedge, titled Gun Control: Fashionable Prohibition for Modern Lawmakers.

The post takes a look at alcohol prohibition and makes some great points of comparison worth noting.

Since the repeal of prohibition in the 1930s, alcohol has taken on an image of fun and relaxation. Sure, some people use it irresponsibly, we are told, but for the most part, people should be allowed the freedom to use it. For those high risk behaviors linked to alcohol, such as drunk driving, we’ll regulate that, but the ownership of alcohol itself, of course, should be open to all adults.

And yet, in the face of this laissez-faire attitude toward drinking, we could offer a host of illustrations of how alcohol is in fact a public safety menace.

Indeed, prior to the 1920s, during the heyday of the temperance movement, alcohol’s image was as anything but a mere benign luxury among a sizable portion of the population.

While many people today assume that the prohibitionists argued along puritanical lines, and emphasized the dangers of moral ruin, the arguments against alcohol were really far more complex than that.

The prohibitionists argued — quite plausibly, mind you — that any number of social ills could be addressed through alcohol prohibition. Chief among these was the fact that many families, including children, were often rendered destitute by the drinking of the male head of the household who was unable to hold down a job due to his addiction. Moreover, cases of child abuse and spousal abuse were clearly connected to alcohol consumption, as were household accidents and accidents on the job.

When breadwinners were killed or injured on the job, or if a drunk spent half his income at a bar on payday, families often ended up on the local dole. Or worse.

And there was a connection to non-domestic violence too. Public drunkenness, bar fights, and the deadly and irresponsible use of guns were connected to drinking as well.

Ironically, back then though, it wasn’t the guns that were seen as the problem (although gun control advocates did exist). For many, the problem was that drunks were irresponsibly using guns and that the common-sense solution was to prevent them from getting drunk.

Alcohol abuse can be connected to all kinds of violence and death, but when attempts were made earlier this year to remove the most commonly abused alcohol products from local shelves, retailers balked. Making money is more important than saving lives and curbing violence.

Here’s more from the link:

Nowadays, 88,000 deaths per year are attributed to alcohol abuse, and thirty people per day in the United States die in alcohol-related auto accidents. Heavy drinkers are more prone to violence, suicide, and risky sexual behavior.

In fact, if we compare these statistics, we find that alcohol abuse is significantly more deadly and problematic than misuse of guns. There were 36,000 gun-related deaths (including suicides and accidents) in the US in 2013, and as a percentage of all causes of death, alcohol-related deaths are more than twice as common as gun deaths.

What’s more, one-third of gun deaths are alcohol related. Thus, according to prohibitionist logic, we could eliminate one-third of gun-related deaths overnight by prohibiting alcohol consumption. So why aren’t we doing it? If it could save one life, wouldn’t it be worth it?

Most have concluded that saving one life is not, in fact, worth it. In practice, alcohol-related deaths (including those inflicted against third-party victims) are treated very differently than gun-related deaths.

Why are they treated differently?

Looking at homicide rates from state to state, the gun control argument is further undermined:

As far as gun prohibition goes, thanks to a diversity of gun laws among the American states, we can compare between gun ownership levels in the states and homicide rates.

And what we find is that there is no correlation between the level of restrictiveness in gun laws and the murder rate. Most recently, Eugene Volokh ran the numbers looking at homicide rates and the so-called Brady Score assigned to states by gun-control advocates. Volokh even provides the data so you can analyze it yourself. (Volokh explains why homicides and not “gun deaths” is the important metric here.)

We can also see that this is quite plausible by simply eyeballing the data if we look at gun restrictions by state and homicide rates. Gun-control advocates like to point to southern states that have both permissive gun laws and high murder rates, such as Alabama and Mississippi. But, even a cursory analysis beyond this cherry-picking shows that there are numerous states with permissive gun laws (such as Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, and others) where the murder rate is very low. And states with more restrictive laws, such as Illinois, New York, and California have higher murder rates than numerous states where it is easy to buy a gun.

So, while gun-control advocates press for “common-sense” restrictions, real common sense suggests that gun restrictions cannot explain the prevalence of murder in a state. This means that gun-control advocates are looking at the wrong social statistics to explain the violence.

The most interesting part of the post comes at the end, when race and class are brought in:

Most everyone accepts that prohibition creates unintended consequences that can be negative, and with alcohol prohibition, these consequences included organized crime and the criminalization of peaceful citizens. Gun-control advocates assert, however, that whatever the downsides of gun control may be, they are minimal compared to the many advantages.

As Murray Rothbard pointed out in For a New Liberty, whether or not you come face to face with those down sides ban depend a lot on your wealth and influence within society. For example, white, middle class people who live in safe suburbs, have influence over local police forces, and can even resort to private security (including alarm systems) see little down side to gun control. After all, they have little reason to fear police or common criminals when they can exercise their well-established political influence at the local level or purchase a home security system with the expectation that police will arrive quickly in case of emergency.

Powerless minorities, on the other hand, face much larger downsides to gun control. For them, police are an unreliable deterrent to local crime, and are little use in cases of social unrest. Many may remember how police in Ferguson, Missouri protected government buildings, but left the rest of the town on its own during the riots there. Local citizens paid for police protection, but got none. And then, of course, there are countless cases of the “proper” authorities using their legal guns against powerless populations, with no resource left to them other than private firearms. Just one example would be the Texas Ranger rampages that followed the so-called Plan de San Diego when the Rangers swept through southern Texas lynching Mexican-Americans who were deemed traitors.

Consequently, some principled leftists, most of whom are radicals, do not subscribe to the dominant gun-control position of the left. But certainly the mainline left, dominated by university intellectuals, government employees, and politicos with nice houses in safe neighborhoods, see few problems associated with centralizing coercive power in the hands of “official” law enforcement.

The downsides of restricting alcohol, however, are plentiful for those who spend many hours at cocktail parties and send their children to booze-soaked elite universities to be paired up with the appropriate social class.

So, until this changes, we ought not expect much of a change in the double standard applied to alcohol and guns in terms of violence, health, and safety. The people who make the laws are quite happy having plenty of booze around. But they can afford to pay someone else to handle the guns for them.

Well said.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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11 Responses to Alcohol, Guns and Double Standards

  1. 01stevekelly says:

    Thomas Jefferson wrote the following about the Shays rebellion while serving as ambassador to France: “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

    Not much has changed, it’s still the same “blame-the-victim” ruling-class calling the shots.
    Double-standards usually exist to protect the minority elite’s disproportionate share of power by denying power to the masses.

    So, what is it that protects the common mispeception that Missoula is “liberal?”

  2. Pingback: Not Guns Again, Pete | Intelligent Discontent

  3. Greg Strandberg says:

    Great post with lots of stuff to think about. I don’t feel threatened by guns, myself. I also don’t feel threatened by transients downtown.

    It’s been said here before and I think it’s a good point – let’s look at the underlying causes of both gun violence and alcohol/drug abuse. I feel a lot of it can be traced to the hopelessness that pervades society.

    Even if you get a “good job” you’re stuck in the 9-to-5 rut and have nothing to look forward to but consumer culture America. There’s not a lot of meaning to what people do, and they feel that they don’t have value. Even if you’re making big bucks, if your work doesn’t give you a sense of value then you’ll lose hope.

    Right now in America a lot of people have lost hope. We talk about guns and all the substance abuse issues. Something we don’t read about are all the working depressed or the working poor. I’d love to read more stories about the people that live in our Walmart parking lots in their cars or RVs.

    Here’s another major problem – even if you’re working you can’t get ahead. More and more, if you have an education you can’t even get ahead. One bad incident and you’re on the street or in your car. It’s very hard to recover from that. Hopelessness sets in.

    Those people protesting Obama yesterday in Oregon, they don’t need more gun control, they need more hope in their life, a sense that they’re doing something meaningful and that it’ll allow them to get ahead.

  4. Michael Moore was surprised to learn that while gun ownership in Canada parallels or exceeds that in the US, gun-related crime rates up there are far less than here. I hate to rely on him for data in that matter, but when traveling back and forth between here and there, notice a shift in culture on crossing the border. Coming back from there one is suddenly aware of the “redneck” – overweight and hairy goon-like personality either on morotrcycle or over-powered truck or SUV, often enough sporting a flag. Every man for himself in this place, and watch your back. How do we breed these seething low-intelligence malcontents?

    Canada is comfortable. Perhaps it is the knowledge that the lowly clerk or barista you’re dealing with has basic human dignities like access to health care and education. People aren’t afraid of losing everything each day as they awake.

    That’s an amateur’s analysis, of course, just anecdotal observation. Here is Paul Craig Roberts:

    The United States has collapsed economically, socially, politically, legally, constitutionally, and environmentally. The country that exists today is not even a shell of the country into which I was born.

    I have noticed this change too, but assumed it was the typical view of the aging citizen walking backward. I don’t know.

  5. Big Swede says:

    Better said, from ZH comment section.

    “You’ll pry my booze from my cold, dead hands…after I run out of ammo.”

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