Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Which to ban first - Alcohol or Guns?

In 2006, an estimated 17,941 people died in alcohol related traffic accidents.  This relatively narrow measure of the likelihood of deaths involving alcohol comes out to about 60 deaths per 100,000 citizens (the average population of the US in 2006 was about 298,594,000).

The homicide by firearm death rate in the United States, from 2009, was 3.7 per 100,000 citizens.

You are about 16 times more likely to die as a result of an alcohol related traffic accident (to say nothing of other alcohol related crimes) than you are to be killed by someone else wielding a gun.

Since the discussion about gun control that has been re-ignited by the horrific shooting at Sandy Brook Elementary School in Newtown, CT has focused almost exclusively of the costs of gun ownership, and therefore, the benefit of banning them, what would a similar analysis lead us to do about alcohol?  We can even make many of the same flippant arguments marginalizing responsible alcohol users that we do responsible gun users.  We could say that alcohol is only useful for getting wasted.  That no one really needs alcohol nowadays anyway.  Some may say that they don't want to ban alcohol entirely, but only want to restrict access to high power liquor - assault liquor, if you will.  Every single argument made to dismiss the virtues of gun ownership could be made in the same spirit to dismiss the virtues of drinking.  So if one is fine with the alcohol, while simultaneously arguing for a new era of gun prohibition, maybe they're more motivated by personal preferences and moral judgments (guns bad, alcohol OK) than they are a dispassionate analysis of the facts.

(And if the natural response to this is to protest that we tried alcohol prohibition and it was a massive failure: GOOD! That's thinking about more than just the benefits of prohibition.  Now we can start having a more serious discussion than what's going on in popular media (and, apparently, college basketball press conferences).)