Watching the usual anti-gun tirades by gun-haters in the aftermath of a high profile shooting like the one in Lewiston, Maine, it’s interesting to see the things that people will and won’t make liberty tradeoffs for. Even those who can only argue by spouting things like, “How many people have to die for your rights?” make these tradeoffs. One that comes up frequently is alcohol.
The United States famously gave prohibition a try. Thanks to widespread non-compliance with the “noble experiment” combined with the inevitable increases in corruption and organized crime that resulted, it didn’t last long.
No one seriously talks about banning alcohol today and there’s very few practical restrictions on its sale. You just have to be 21 years old (a rule that’s easily flouted) and you can buy it at any store or bar that sells it.
You can literally have just been released from a drunk tank or after a DUI arrest and go right back out and buy more. There’s no push by any interest group to change that, and no cries about lax alcohol regulation costing too many lives.
And let’s be clear, while most people can and do use it responsibly, alcohol use costs a lot of lives.
A comparison is in order here. According to the CDC, gun-related causes of all types (suicide, homicide, negligence) killed about 48,000 people last year. But also according to the CDC, over 140,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year. And while many of those are people drinking themselves to death, in 2021 over 13,000 people were killed in drunk driving incidents. That same year, 21% of suicide victims had a blood-alcohol level above 0.1%.
Alcohol-related causes also kill 3,900 people ages 0-20 each year. That’s not quite as high as gun-related deaths in that age group, but it’s in the ballpark. And who knows how many cases of abused children or spouses who are ultimately murdered involved angry drunken fathers?
So with all that in mind, why are some of the very same people who are continually outraged about civilian gun ownership perfectly okay with the status quo on alcohol, which kills about three times as many Americans annually?
The Lewiston shooter used a gun by Ruger. So did mass shooters in Boulder, Sutherland Springs and UVA. When will they be held accountable?
— Kris Brown | President, bradyunited.org (@KrisB_Brown) October 28, 2023
Remember, while some people legitimately do need a gun for self-defense, no one ever “needs” a drink. Guns are used to stop about 1.6 million robberies, assaults, rapes, and murders every year. How many crimes are prevented and lives saved by alcohol?
Alcohol is a worse liberty tradeoff in that sense, because its only utility is having fun and feeling good. To put it in terms the Gun Control Industry might understand, “By continuing to oppose banning alcohol, you’re saying you’re okay with over 100,000 people dying so you can enjoy an occasional beer. You evil monster!”
None of this is to say I want us to take another run at prohibition. Of course not. Rather, it’s to demonstrate that everyone implicitly understands and accepts liberty tradeoffs. But when it comes to guns, a lot of people pretend not to.
Never mind that alcohol use isn’t even a constitutional right, yet we have given it de facto protection anyway. I see alcohol advertising everywhere in ways that would be utterly unthinkable for guns.
Many more people die because we can easily buy a drink than because we can (not nearly as easily) buy a rifle.
And to be clear, none of this is to say we shouldn’t do our best to reduce firearm suicides and homicides in ways that still respect the Second Amendment. I just can’t grasp why people don’t see the obvious parallels.
It probably comes down to mass shootings specifically. They’re horrifying enough in their rarity and randomness that people don’t think of the numbers in aggregate. They focus instead on the single atrocity. Yet at any time, a drunk driver can take you out of this life, and it’s far more likely that will kill you than a mass shooter.
Konstadinos Moros is an Associate Attorney with Michel & Associates, a law firm in Long Beach that regularly represents the California Rifle & Pistol Association (CRPA) in its litigation efforts to restore the Second Amendment in California. You can find him on his Twitter handle @MorosKostas. To donate to CRPA or become a member, visit https://crpa.org/.