Guns and Weed: Perspectives of Personal Liberty vs Public Health
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
14 December 2012
The recent referendums in Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational use (in addition to medical use) of marijuana restarted a long-standing conversation about whether cannabis is 1) truly a destructive substance and 2) whether the government should be prohibiting the use, sale or possession of this substance. In addition, the country has witness multiple seemingly random mass killings of people in public venues within the past few months. These seemingly divergent issues are affecting aspects of personal liberty in contrast to whether government should regulate those aspects.
In the debate over legalizing recreational marijuana use, we see claims of personal liberty being expanded by the recent votes in the two states. We see this apparent expansion of rights in stark contrast to long-standing government regulation against cannabis use. There is a claim that the individual intoxicating use of marijuana is, in effect, a public health menace that must be controlled. The intoxicating effects of cannabis are readily related to alcohol, but the use of that cannabis results in far less deaths than alcohol. Also, the substance supposedly is a “gateway drug” to more hardcore substances or even a “life of crime”. Of this, one argues that stems from the often shady environment where people have to go to get their cannabis due to the illegal nature of that substance. People using pot are not doing themselves any favors if they abuse that drug (similar to alcohol abuse). Yet, cannabis usage does not generally result in catastrophic results (without something like a car being involved).
With the recent shootings, the country has been pondering whether the second amendment is allegedly carried too far if people are allowed, without question, to own or to carry any type of weapon. No one is proposing to take away people’s rights to have a gun, but perhaps, we should consider if particular persons should be allowed to carry certain weapons. (Who is the judge?) Unlike marijuana, guns have been used in far more deaths. Also we know that no simple test will gauge whether a person is sane enough to warrant a purchase. This is evidenced by the recent shooting in Connecticut where the murderer used the weapons purchased by his mother. The shooter was readily taught by his mother to shoot those weapons even though she may not have taught how to plan a mass killing spree. Yet, this son was able to gain access to weapons that murdered an entire first grade class. Aurora, Colorado also saw what can occur when people get access to lots of weapons. Still folks want to say that there should be no prohibitions on weapons of any sort upon firearms.
Each of these discussions shares a concern for the public well-being in contrast to personal liberties. The question is then begged at what point do these converge and which is the preferred position with respect to the convergence. Would legalizing pot allow people to find their substance in less shady places that ultimately lowers exposure to criminal activity or exposure to other more intense substances? This might even lower overall criminal activity. Does the ban on marijuana find justification when a person, wholly sober, can buy any caliber automatic weapon and then use such to destroy the peace of communities?
Most argue the right to bear arms is enshrined for citizens to be able to protect themselves from others and the government. Yet, the most literal interpretation of this amendment might suggest that people should be able to bear nuclear arms without restriction from the federal government. That would be ridiculous to most reasonable people because the ability to inflict harm upon indeterminate numbers of people warrants some limits. If “guns don’t kill people”, how many must die as a result of a firearm usage before there are limits? How many bullied individuals will realize mass murder as a means to end the taunting, threats and harassment before we intervene?
Now, if people are concerned about the criminal elements surrounding a particular element like cannabis, they might want to consider what loan-sharks do around legal gambling. Also today, alcohol is ranked as the third-leading cause of preventable death in America and a leading cause of automobile collisions. Gun usage has been linked to over 70,000 deaths a year (without regard to motive). Yet, cannabis is the one prohibited.
I am not advocating cannabis use, but we need to consider the legitimacy of laws in relevance to the actual impacts and goals of those laws were designed to achieve (e.g. lower crime and a secure public).
All guns do not have to be available to any buyer who wishes them, and their sellers should be willing to ask questions or to refuse service. Possibly, a reasonable thing to do is to follow some of limits on alcohol upon these other areas because we have many laws on the books that limit alcohol use without prohibition. Could this not be extended to cannabis use? Additionally, bartenders can and do refuse service to customers. Bartenders and retailers can also be held accountable for an improper sale that results in a death or serious injury of another. Should we consider the “right to bear arms” versus to sell arms? Should we not also consider the liability of a weapon sale?
Public well-being collides with personal liberty within written policy statutes and policy desires. Yet, that does not mean we have to be extreme in application especially when statistics show there is a clear difference between the goal and the applied policy. Maybe, we could apply common sense to laws for once. Certain weapons are not a necessity to own, and cannabis is less of a threat than alcohol. How many more senseless and tragic deaths will we have to endure before we realize this?