A Problem of Perspective

I am highly skeptical of government efforts to control firearms and drugs for many reasons which I don’t need to go into here, but which all boil down to the fact that government is downstream of culture. Culture, not guns, determines murder rates. Culture, not police action, determines whether people abuse pot, alcohol, or heroin.

I do not see firearms and drug use as being on the same level. Firearm ownership strikes me as a good thing, while drug use strikes me as being evil.

A big part of this is a matter of experience. Though I live in true blue Massachusetts, the small towns in which I’ve lived most of my life have fairly high rates of gun ownership and ridiculously low crime rates. Lancaster, where I lived for my first 19 years has never, to my knowledge, had a murder. Clinton, where I’ve lived on and off for six years, has had two or three murders in the last thirty years, and victims and perpetrators in all cases were people just passing through town. I think the murders were stabbings and beatings, not firearm related. The same pattern has repeated itself everywhere I’ve lived in the United States.

I know of three people in my home area who have died by firearm: one by negligence and two suicides. There are probably a few more suicides than I know of.

Currently I live in a larger city with a reputation for violence, but though I am in an ugly, working class and mixed-race tenant neighborhood, the area is quite safe.

So, needless to say I do not see firearm ownership as being a problem. Violent crime by firearm simply does not enter into my mental landscape as a possibility. I can’t imagine realistic circumstances in which someone would attempt to kill me or someone I love with a gun. Though I have a license to carry a firearm I never do, because I feel so safe.


With drugs, the opposite is true. I hear about people with drug problems all the time. I hear about drug overdoses too. It enters my social network. My coworkers, friends, and relatives worry about their kids and neighborhoods. Everyone knows someone who has a serious problem.

Heroin is a massive problem where I live.

Per the CDC:

During 2014, 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. Since 2000, the age-adjusted drug overdose death rate has more than doubled, from 6.2 per 100,000 persons in 2000 to 14.7 per 100,000 in 2014…. In 2014, the five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were West Virginia (35.5 deaths per 100,000), New Mexico (27.3), New Hampshire (26.2), Kentucky (24.7) and Ohio (24.6). States with statistically significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014 included Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

So, for me, drug abuse is a more serious issue. People feel powerless to stop their kids from getting caught up in opiate addiction. They want the government to do something.

I understand why someone from West Roxbury might want stricter gun control, because he hears about and knows people who have been murdered with firearms. He is as terrified of his son being shot as my neighbor is of her son ending up a junkie. He, like my neighbor, blames an inanimate object – a firearm or bag of heroin – and not the cultural standards that their children have internalized by their own free will.

It being election season Republican candidates – Cruz and Christi especially – are trying to address New Englanders’ fears about drugs. I’m relieved that so far I haven’t heard them talking about doubling down on the Drug War, which has been a massive failure on every level. They talk instead about border control and better access to counseling and medical treatment.

But I can’t help but to think that there is not really anything they can do. What can you do for people who think gang-banging and heroin use are sane and normal activities? Tell them to stop?

You can tweak the law but you cannot change the culture.


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