The culture of guns, the culture of alcohol

I receive many emails asking me what is my attitude toward guns and gun control.  I would say I wish it worked better than it does (a key point), I don’t think it works very well, I am happy to make those changes which seem to work somewhat, but overall I see an America with lots of guns and a falling crime and murder rate, so let’s focus on what is working, whatever that may be.

I would be happier if advocates of stronger gun control would state up front what percentage of the variation in the murder rate they thought they would be controlling.  I see them as likely to make some dent in the suicide rate, most of all.

I would gladly see a cultural shift toward the view that gun ownership is dangerous and undesirable, much as the cultural attitudes toward smoking have shifted since the 1960s.

I am, however, consistent.  I also think we should have a cultural shift toward the view that alcohol — and yes I mean all alcohol — is at least as dangerous and undesirable.  I favor a kind of voluntary prohibition on alcohol.  It is obvious to me that alcohol is one of the great social evils and when I read the writings of the prohibitionists, while I don’t agree with their legal remedies, their arguments make sense to me.  It remains one of the great undervalued social movements.  For mostly cultural reasons, it is now a largely forgotten remnant of progressivism and it probably will stay that way, given that “the educated left” mostly joined with America’s shift to being “a wine nation” in the 1970s.

Guns, like alcohol, have many legitimate uses, and they are enjoyed by many people in a responsible manner.  In both cases, there is an elite which has absolutely no problems handling the institution in question, but still there is the question of whether the nation really can have such bifurcated social norms, namely one set of standards for the elite and another set for everybody else.

In part our guns problem is an alcohol problem.  According to Mark Kleiman, half the people in prison were drinking when they did whatever they did.  (Admittedly the direction of causality is murky but theory points in some rather obvious directions.)  Our car crash problem – which kills many thousands of Americans each year — is also in significant part an alcohol problem.  There are connections between alcohol and wife-beating and numerous other social ills, including health issues of course.

It worries me when people focus on “guns” and do not accord an equivalent or indeed greater status to “alcohol” as a social problem.  Many of those people drink lots of alcohol, and would not hesitate to do so in front of their children, although they might regard owning an AK-47, or showing a pistol to the kids, as repugnant.  I believe they are a mix of hypocritical and unaware, even though many of these same individuals have very high IQs and are well schooled in the social sciences.  Perhaps they do not want to see the parallels.

The people who get this right — it seems to me — are the Mormons.  Compassion, most of all for the poor, means that we should raise the social status of Mormons on this issue.

I don’t see that happening anytime soon.


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