In the wake of the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando, Florida, numerous media pundits and concerned Americans have called for new, strict gun regulations, including expanded background checks and bans on gun sales made to anyone on the federal government’s “No-Fly List” or from the “Selectee List” of people who have been flagged for extra security at airports.
House Democrats recently staged a 25-hour sit-in to protest Republicans’ rejection of these provisions and other gun control measures supported by many in Congress and around the country. The group pledged — after failing to achieve its goal — to continue to fight for increased reforms they say will make Americans safe.
While most of those advocating for increased gun regulations are sincere in their desire to alleviate violence, calls to limit long-standing Second Amendment rights courts have consistently upheld are misguided and wildly inconsistent. If legislators truly want to pass laws that will save the most number of lives, they should instead start with enacting strict limits or bans on the sale and consumption of alcohol, a legal product far more dangerous to Americans than “assault” rifles, handguns or virtually any other weapon.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year, making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in America. By comparison, guns are far less dangerous. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports less than 33,000 people die each year from gun violence, and of those, nearly 20,000 are suicides. That means alcohol is more than twice as deadly as guns in the United States and 650 percent more deadly if suicides are excluded from the comparison.
In addition to the shocking number of deaths linked to alcohol, there are a number of other social and public health problems tied to the freedom to consume these products. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says more than 10 percent of children in the United States live with at least one parent suffering from alcoholism, and an article published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine estimates the total national and state cost of “excessive alcohol consumption” in 2010 was $249 billion. Other problems include rampant use of alcohol by teenagers, alcohol-related domestic violence, and countless other societal ills.
And yet there is not one bill in Congress, one federal lawmaker or one prominent media outlet calling for stricter national limits on alcohol. Why not raise the alcohol consumption age nationwide to 40 years old? Why not require background checks at liquor stores to ensure those with a history of drunk driving aren’t able to purchase alcohol? Why not require all those who want to purchase alcohol to register in a national database so we can be sure those who are addicted or dangerous don’t have access to these deadly products?
Some might say the reason these alcohol regulations don’t exist is because only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of people who have consumed alcohol in the United States have actually broken other laws while doing so, but that claim isn’t consistent either; even fewer of the 80 million gun-owning Americans have committed crimes linked to using guns.
The reason laws strictly limiting alcohol consumption have not been passed in recent years — or even proposed — is because most people recognize that while there are some dangers associated with alcohol, freedom should, whenever possible, be valued over government-imposed restrictions on liberty. And this is precisely why the Second Amendment was created in the first place: to guarantee people would have the right to defend themselves against all those who would unjustly take property, life or liberty.
Gun freedom does carry with it some risks, but so do all freedoms, and if our guiding principle stops being liberty and starts to become fear, then logic dictates we must be bound to eliminate all those “unnecessary” harms that exist in society, which a fair-minded person must acknowledge includes far more than guns — everything from fried foods to skydiving to the consumption of alcohol.
• Justin Haskins is executive editor of the Heartland Institute.