In my experience, most Americans recognize that there are legitimate reasons to own a gun, and know better than to believe that gun prohibition is an effective strategy for reducing gun-related crimes. But there is a gap between the ardent Second Amendment defender and the average American, skillfully exploited by the gun prohibitionists, when waiting periods and backgroundchecks are suggested. "What's the problem? Can't you wait a few days to buy a gun?"
Unfortunately, principled defenses of the right to keep and bear arms play into the hands of the gun prohibitionists, by making our side appear extreme and uncompromising. Here's a more effective argument: ask them to apply the waiting periods, background checks, and private sale prohibitions to alcohol, which causes twice as many deaths each year as firearms. Imagine a newspaper ad like the one below:
It's Time To Stop The Killing!
In 1987, 19,918 Americans were killed in alcohol- related traffic accidents.1 Less well known is that alcohol is a major factor in murder, suicide, rape, child molestation, and other crimes of violence. Nearly a third of convicted child molesters had been drinking before the offense.2 While the exact percentages are difficult to determine accurately, it is clear that alcohol is a major factor in spouse and child abuse.3 Of convicted murderers surveyed in 1986, 23.6% admitted being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the offense, and 19.0% were under the influence of both alcohol and drugs. Similar percentages were found for rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, and arson convicts.4 That's more than 8000 murders a year in which alcohol played a role!
Alcohol is also a major factor in suicides in the United States; as much as 80% of suicide attempts are under the influence of alcohol.5 A subtler form of suicide, alcoholic cirrhosis, causes at least 11,000 deaths a year in the United States.6
In 1977, alcohol caused between 61,000 and 95,000 deaths in the U.S.7 -- and alcoholic mortality hasn't declined since then.8 The economic cost to the government, private insurers, business, and individuals of this human suffering was estimated by the Federal Government at $42.7 billion in 19759; no one can claim that alcohol abuse is a purely private problem.
Much of this is the result of minors who buy alcohol illegally, and adults who have demonstrated that they can not be trusted to drink responsibly. Certainly, a person with prior convictions for alcohol-related crime, including drunk driving, should not have access to alcohol. The law already prohibits selling alcohol to those under age, but that's not stopping the flow of alcohol or the crimes connected to it, and the law doesn't prevent adults with a history of criminal alcohol abuse from obtaining it. If we are serious about reducing the horrendous costs of alcohol crime, our legislators need to pass laws to stop this madness!
We propose the following:
Every alcoholic beverage container will have a serial number, so that those who illegally sell alcohol can be identified and prosecuted.
All sales of alcohol will require the buyer to provide his name, address, physical description, and driver's license number on a Dealer Record of Sale form. False IDs have long been used by minors to buy alcohol, so this information will be verified before the sale is completed.
To discourage people who, in a moment of depression, buy a bottle, and commit suicide under the influence of alcohol, there will be a 15 day "cooling-off" period, during which the buyer's ID will be verified, as discussed in #2.
Most adults have been approached by a minor outside a liquor store, asking them to buy alcohol.By requiring full identification, and the serial number of the container to be purchased at the beginning of the waiting period, the legitimate buyer won't be able to add a six-pack to his order on the spur of the moment.
Unregistered private party transactions will be prohibited. Adults may transfer an alcoholic beverage to another adult through a licensed alcohol dealer after the fifteen day waiting period and background check.
Possession of an alcoholic beverage in a public place, except while in transit to or from a licensed alcohol dealer with the package securely wrapped, will be illegal, since at any time, the temptation to whip out a six-pack, get drunk, and ram a school bus full of kids, seems to be more than many Americans can control.
To show that we consider alcohol crime serious unregistered sales of alcohol will be a misdemeanor; possession of alcohol in a public place, except while in transit, will be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on prior convictions.
Alcoholic beverages so high in alcohol content as to have no legitimate dietary purpose, such as whiskey, gin, or rum, will require a permit from the state Attorney-General, which will only be issued for "non- personal, commercial" uses (TV & film production). There is no legitimate purpose to such drinks -- they exist for one purpose only -- getting drunk. Unlicensed possession or sale of these beverages will be a felony -- up to one year in jail for unlicensed possession in a public place, or second offense possession in your home, and a minimum of four years in prison for unlicensed sale. Existing owners of these "assault beverages" will be allowed to keep them, provided they are registered with the state, but no new ones will be allowed to be sold.
Police departments, the state Department of Justice, and other public agencies, will of course be completely exempt from these restrictions, since politicians and police officers do not abuse alcohol, except in the public interest.
Some will argue, "I drink responsibly. Why should I be penalized because a few alcohol users become criminals?" But these aren't penalties -- just reasonable controls on alcohol. You can still get beer for your party -- just plan ahead.
Some will argue that this elaborate record keeping scheme is a waste of time, since when an alcohol crime takes place, the bottle is seldom recovered, and only a tiny number of "alcohol criminals" will be prosecuted. But without the threat of prosecution, who will obey the law?
Alcohol Control, Inc.
Keeping alcohol "out of the wrong hands".
No rational person would consider this a reasonable way to fight alcohol abuse -- but go back through this proposal and substitute the word "firearm" for "alcohol" -- and this is already the law regulating firearms in California. Your state, or perhaps the entire country, will be next.
Most gun owners support reasonable restrictions on firearms sales; we don't want criminals or crazies to have access to guns. Indeed, most gun owners would have no objection to firearms registration, if there were not a small but vocal faction in America that supports registration as a first step towards confiscation. But when "gun control" is given a far higher priority than "alcohol control" by the news media and the politicians, it's hard to believe that public safety is the real goal behind these efforts.
There is one big difference between alcohol and guns -- ten thousand six-packs of beer in student hands in Tiananmen Square wouldn't have made any difference; ten thousand rifles might have.
Clayton Cramer is a software engineer with a Northern California manufacturer of telecommunications equipment. His first book, By The Dim And Flaring Lamps: The Civil War Diary of Samuel McIlvaine was published in 1990.
1 Terry S. Zobeck, et. al., Trends in Alcohol-Related Fatal Traffic Crashes, United States: 1977-1987, (Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, August 1989), p. 17.
2 Judy Roizen, "Estimating Alcohol Involvement in Serious Events" in Alcohol Consumption and Related Problems, (Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1983), p. 210.
3 Ibid., pp. 208, 210-211.
4 Correctional Populations in the United States, 1986, (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1989), p. 39.
5 Fifth Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health, (Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1984), p. xx.
6 Ibid., p. xvii.
7 Henry Malin, Judith Coakley, Charles Kaelber, "An Epidemiological Perspective on Alcohol Use and Abuse in the United States" in Alcohol Consumption and Related Problems, (Rockville, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1983), p. 129. 8 Ibid., p. 99.
9 Thomas R. Vischi, Kenneth R. Jones, et. al., The Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health National Data Book, (Rockville, MD: Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, 1980), p.96.
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