A tale of two prohibitions, guns are kind of like pot 

To be sure, there are a few differences. One is highly addictive, possibly more fun than we should be allowed to have, and can easily kill. The other is a plant.

There are important similarities, however.

The first similarity is that the law has tended to frown on them both. In neither case am I much impressed by the constitutional soundness of the frowning, but it is what it is. The War on Pot has been much harsher than the War on Guns, but both have been very real. In both cases, there have been some similar consequences.

Laws that criminalize certain guns, or certain plants, do not banish these things from the face of the Republic forever. What they really do is to increase the practical costs of ownership – perhaps a little, perhaps a lot.

Increase the costs of ownership a little, and some people will give up either their guns or their weed. Increase the costs of ownership a lot, and many more people will give them up. But not everyone will. The most determined, the most unscrupulous, the most sociopathic, and those who have the least ability to reckon cost/benefit ratios will keep right on with them both.

And then a funny thing happens. These people, rather than the sane, reasonable ones, will end up determining the culture of use that surrounds either guns or pot. When the law sleeps, they're the ones making the rules.

In both cases, such people will tend toward violence as the costs of doing business goes up, and as lawful dispute resolution vanishes. They are already unreasonable, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. Did you buy an illegal gun? Or illegal weed? Good luck with suing the merchant when it turns out it was also defective or tainted. If you’re already inclined to violence, it’s a perfect temptation.

Did someone steal your illegal gun/illegal weed? You'd better pray the cops don't look into it, because if they do, you’ll get busted too. The best you can hope for is crime with impunity.

There's nothing special about either guns or weed in this regard. If we made ice cream illegal, you can bet more people would steal ice cream, too. The sheer illegality guarantees that the victims will keep quiet about the entire incident, even if the theft went way beyond ice cream.

The second similarity between guns and pot is a lot happier. It's that both guns and pot most certainly can develop a culture of responsible use. All that's needed are reasonable laws that allow ordinary people to own these items, just like any other property, without fear of punishment, and with adequate legal means to resolve disputes about them peacefully.

The Washington Post recently discovered, much to its own apparent surprise, that exactly such a culture of responsible gun use exists in the American West:

In the red rock and sand of the Arizona desert, just past the retirement villages and golf greens that have made this sun-worshipping city famous, sits the biggest public shooting range in the United States.

Not far away are the Wal-Marts where Arizonans pay Sun City retirees to wait in line when a new ammo shipment arrives, lest the supply run out. Residents have the right to carry handguns openly, and starting last month residents who have no criminal records and are at least 21 also are able to carry concealed weapons just about anywhere, without the bother of getting a permit.

The full embrace of firearms is just as fervent to the north in Montana, where nearly two-thirds of all households have firearms. Montanans feel so strongly about their right to own guns for hunting, fending off grizzlies and -- if it comes to it -- fellow humans that lawmakers passed a measure last year that challenges the federal government's authority to regulate guns made and kept in their state.

Just as a culture of responsible use is possible for guns, it's also possible for marijuana, and perhaps for other drugs, too. The Erowid Center offers one of the more ambitious efforts in this direction. One need not agree on all the particulars, of course, and it's impossible to read many of the drug experiences chronicled at their site without wincing. But a culture of responsible use depends on knowledge, including knowledge of what not to do, so that responsible people can educate themselves and make their own decisions.

Lest anyone misunderstand me, I'll close with one final point. Among many other things, a culture of responsible use would say yes to either guns or marijuana, but never to both at once. Our current laws, which have restricted them both, and often in similar ways, have had the final perverse effect of lumping them both together, and handing them as a package to the least responsible people around. That's precisely what we need to undo.

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