Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Speeding Toward Reason

I think we should do away with speed limits.  No, I wasn’t late for work this morning and no, I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket in many, many years. It strikes me, though, that speed limits only serve to make law abiding citizen drive within the posted limits.  Criminals and scofflaws just speed on their merry way, content in the knowledge that they’re not all that likely to get caught.  It’s a warped little bit of circular reasoning, I’ll grant you that, but it follows exactly the same line of reasoning the most vocal arguments against any kind of sane gun control use: criminals break the law, so we shouldn’t have one.  Outside the context of gun control, it’s a mystifying loop.  

By definition, laws only prevent law abiding citizens from breaking them.  Once you break the law, you are no longer law abiding.  You’ve crossed the line into criminal.  This is categorically true whether the law you’re breaking is driving 100 mph on the freeway or buying an assault rifle, but we only use the assault rifle buying as grounds to invalidate the law.  Only for gun control do we argue that since people will break the law anyway, no law should exist.  Gun control opponents like to point to the end of prohibition and the legalization/ decriminalization movement for marijuana as support for this faulty logic, but those cases are false analogies.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Volstead Act was not repealed because people continued to drink alcohol (although they surely did).  Prohibition was repealed for reasons that were almost exclusively financial.  The federal government was close to broke and desperately needed the tax revenue that the sale of alcohol provided.  Good bye, temperance movement; hello, Budweiser.  Similarly, the current trend toward the legalization of medical marijuana use and the smaller movement toward the decriminalization of casual marijuana use is one of those rare and wonderful instances where science and common sense have moved the legislative process—at least on a local and state level.  There is solid scientific evidence that marijuana can be useful in the treatment of a number of medical disorders, and no compelling evidence that its use is more dangerous than that of tobacco or alcohol.  From a pharmacological stand point, the addiction liability for marijuana is far lower than that of alcohol and tobacco.  Marijuana users are almost never violent; to the contrary, they’re usually quite docile.  They pose very little risk to anyone’s well-being other than their own.   It makes little economic sense to spend millions of dollars locking people up to protect them from their own folly.  It would make as much sense, economically, to put kids in jail for filching cigarettes from their parents.

The argument that we should not enact laws because criminals will not follow them is a ridiculous failure in logic that demeans the debate on how to address gun violence and tragedy.  There may be reasonable arguments against gun control legislation; the fact that I have yet to hear one doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Someone may be able to do better than this.  When the noisiest segment perpetuates a groundless argument, it drowns out reasonable debate.  The victims of senseless tragedies in Aurora, Littleton, Newtown and countless others deserve a better effort than this.  If this is the best argument that can be made, perhaps it’s time to think hard about why.

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