Ban All Nugs...
By William Westmiller
Ever wondered how to control a gun? Do you stick a knife to its head? Give it special sensitivity training? Pray that it will act thoughtfully, rather than jump? For that matter, how do you "control" any inanimate object? Obviously, there's something amiss with the language of prohibition.
We'd like to think that there's some magic spell to force objects to do good, never bad. How dare that alcohol force us to swallow it! The nasty "demon rum" has plotted against the better nature of men and women for centuries. The eighteenth amendment was the only occasion in history when a substance was constitutionally banned. Prohibition was a not just a failure, it created and supported many of the criminal organizations that dominated the nation long after the amendment was repealed.
The lesson from prohibition is not just its consequences, but the simple fact that it was necessary to amend the Constitution to allow it. Every prohibition since then has been an evasion of the constitutional separation of powers. The federal government simply doesn't have the delegated authority to ban anything. Modern prohibitions have been purely administrative, with the consent of Congress, but without constitutional authority. The method has been to impose extreme barriers and penalties which create de-facto prohibitions. The lessons of alcohol prohibition were apparently never learned and the limits imposed by the Constitution have been brazenly ignored.
If we look carefully at American history, we will discover that prohibitions on objects are aimed primarily at a particular class of people, or their inclinations, which we feared. Drug prohibitions grew out of our fear of American Indian and Chinese immigrant rituals. Peyote and Opium were ancestral traditions, even religious rituals, which were totally alien to Americanculture. Since the rituals themselves injured no one, it was hard to make a case that the human activity itself should, or could, be banned. Instead, the objects were deemed "evil" and worthy of prohibition, irrespective of their use.
Bans against weapons were initially intended to reduce the risk of slave owners against any act of self-defense by blacks. It was rationally impossible to ban self-defense, so the objects that made it effective were banned. In the early South, the first legislated prohibitions were not against guns per se, but against carrying concealed guns. The bigots wanted to know whether there was a serious risk from assaulting a black man, or woman, for no good cause. If the gun was visible, then killing a black freeman was certainly self-defense. The gun laws of the time, explicitly, were never enforced against whites. Only the fear of white oppressors motivated the concealment, or even the possesion, of a weapon.
The personification of inanimate objects isn't a new human exercise. In early human history, every mysterious aspect of nature was cast as a willful god. Don't irritate that nasty god of lightening, or Zeus will destroy you! The spirit of wind will take your breath - and your life -away in a whisper! Now, as then, we resort to incantation: "Just Say No To Drugs!" we plead.
If we could only write a law with just the right words, chanting it every day and night, the evil substance may one day just disappear. We beseech our children, grandchildren, everyone, all at once, to invoke the magic word. Just say "No". No matter the question. Just Say "No"! That'll fix it!
Somewhere, we've lost appreciation of the fact that humans act. There are ethical human acts, which we reward, and criminal acts, which we punish. But, objects don't act. There never was and never will be an ethical or criminal gun. No alcoholic beverage ever decided to cause harm to anyone. No drug will ever cause injury of its own free will. And there's the nub. Humans do have free will. They can chose to cause harm, either by utilizing an object against another, or, by negligent use of a dangerous object, to themselves. The former is the substance of law, the later is the substance of ethics. Objects have neither.
Whether the subject is guns or drugs, prohibition is neither wise nor effective. Such laws stand in the way of communicating knowledge about the consequences of proper and improper use of the object. Frequently, weapons are absolutely necessary for self defense. Frequently, drugs are absolutely necessary for good health. An hysteric, blanket condemnation of any object is animpediment to good communication of the facts. A barrier to developing a sense of right and wrong acts. We're shortchanging our children on moral principles and beneficial knowledge of the world when we chant the magic words of law and beseech their compliance. They deserve better.
If we must have incarnations against the devil's objects, then let's make it truly mysterious. We know of no such thing as "nugs" anywhere in the universe. But, just in case they're evil, let's ban all nugs... and leave it at that.
©1998, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24CD) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
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