October 3, 2015

EUGENE VOLOKH: Guns And Alcohol.

After various highly publicized shootings, those of us who are skeptical about gun controls are often asked: So what are we suggesting should be done about the shootings? If we’re not suggesting gun controls (as opposed to proposals such as letting teachers or professors be armed, increasing concealed carry rights outside schools, providing school guards or trying to figure out, maintain and extend the remarkable fall in violent crime since the early 1990s) — the argument goes, we’re not taking gun tragedies seriously.

Now I generally don’t support the “don’t just stand there, do something” school of criminal law. When all the proposals seem likely not to work, or do more harm than good, implementing one of them for the sake of “doing something” strikes me as a mistake.

But let me offer a concrete analogy (recognizing that, as with all analogies, it’s analogous and not identical).

Every day, about 30 people are killed in the U.S. in gun homicides or gun accidents (not counting gun suicides or self-inflicted accidental shootings). And every day, likely about 30 people are killed in homicides where the killer was under the influence of alcohol, plus alcohol-related drunk driving accidents and alcohol-related accidents where the driver wasn’t drunk but the alcohol was likely a factor (again not including those who died in accidents caused by their own alcohol consumption). If you added in gun suicides on one side and those people whose alcohol consumption killed themselves on the other, the deaths would tilt much more on the side of alcohol use, but I generally like to segregate deaths of the user from deaths of others.

So what are we going to do about it? When are we going to ban alcohol? When are we going to institute more common-sense alcohol-control measures?

Well, we tried, and the conventional wisdom is that the cure was worse than the disease — which is why we went back to a system where alcohol is pretty freely available, despite the harm it causes (of which the deaths are only part). We now prohibit various kinds of reckless behavior while using alcohol. But we try to minimize the burden on responsible alcohol users by generally allowing alcohol purchase and possession, subject to fairly light regulations.

Read the whole thing.

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