By Edward Jaffe
When the Progressive Era’s Anti-Saloon League pushed forth their prohibitionist agenda, the cry then — as today — was: something MUST be done! A problem was identified. The “problem” of (male) alcoholism in the post-WWI period was many orders of magnitude greater than any present day gun “problem” that could be described. The scope of drinking-related income diverted to the saloons, wife-beating, child neglect etc., would surely dwarf any criminal issue of today. Societies falling for a puerile, simple answer is nothing new. It’s a story almost as sad and long as history itself. Every dictator and demagogue, every war (present day included) and perhaps every bad policy we can think of — occurs when the public gets the idea that a simple answer is an answer . . .
The success of the Anti-Saloon League (and other similar efforts by orgs like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and Carry Nation) and various one-time “fringe” groups is mind boggling — and should stand as a reminder of what gun prohibitionists could accomplish.
Not only did the Anti-Saloon League overwhelm the wealth and power of the liquor industry, but the federal government received a substantial amount of its tax revenues [33% pre-income-tax] from liquor sales. Also, many people who drank supported prohibition as a way to attack the perceived drinking issues of other people or classes. Catholics in the north and blacks in the south were targets, with the KKK being a strong supporter of prohibition.
In the run-up to the passage of the Volstead Act, the Anti-Saloon League never mentioned side-effects such as criminal penalties, unforeseen consequences, poisonings, black markets or organized crime that would emerge as a direct consequence of their advocacy. Far from explaining that anyt possible downside could be expected, there were nothing but utopian promises if only demon rum could be excised from society. This is a direct parallel to the modern Gun Prohibitionist movement.
Not only does the modern Gun Prohibitionist movement distance itself from obvious future failures, but also avoids the very mention of draconian (medieval, really) criminal penalties for laws that have just passed which they championed. Prohibition “only” prohibited the manufacturing, sale, transport, import, export or distribution of intoxicating beverages. Drinking itself was never actually prohibited (at the Federal level). Unlike the latter-day War On Drugs and the evolving War On Guns, the target was those involved in commerce, not ordinary citizen end-users.
The utopian promises of the Gun Control Movement are no more realistic than the promises of Rev. Billy Sunday speaking at the moment when the 18th Amendment took effect: “The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corn-cribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.”
The modern equivalents to the Anti-Saloon League are the “Brady Era” groups which sought to ban (yes ban) handgun ownership in the United States. Add to those groups the ever-growing list of vaguely focused, “Sandy Hook Era” organizations that cropped up whose emphasis is on pictures and videos, not discussion, debate or specifics. While claiming to advocate only “common sense” reform of gun laws, their proposals are simply cover designed to hide their support for draconian treatment of gun owners and mass-criminalization.
These overtly anti-intellectual groups will rarely put forth concrete, on-the-record, legally detailed proposals, even though they are in the “let’s change the gun laws business.” Even the instant-law template (just add tragedy) creators the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence (LCPGV) won’t mention penalties or consequences for breaking the laws they want to see enacted, even though they are lawyers and know very well where this is all going.
As an example, the LCPGV proposes taking the NJ approach, classifying BB guns and airguns identically to firearms. They’re well aware that making a BB gun legally identical to a GLOCK will mean years in prison for thousands of people. But they don’t want you to know that — and they don’t care. So far as every one of these groups is concerned, their slogan should really be, the ends justify the means.