Why Libertarians Oppose Drug Prohibition and Disarmament
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the June 2000 edition of Colorado Liberty.]
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." One cannot attack some civil rights and hope to retain others. Our civil liberties are interdependent. When one article of the Bill of Rights is threatened, all are threatened.
Unfortunately, power elitists have effectively divided the American civil rights movement into two warring factions. Those on the traditional "left," such as the American Civil Liberties Union, denigrate the civil right to keep and bear small arms, while those on the "right," such as the National Rifle Association, demand that ever more non-violent drug offenders be warehoused in America's prison system.
The only winners in this conflict are those who control the machinery of the expansive state. The losers are the Bill of Rights and the people it was intended to protect. If the civil rights movement in America remains fractured, with various factions constantly ripping each other to shreds, it ultimately will be conquered and replaced by those who clamor for authoritarianism.
Blinded by dogma and bigotry, representatives of both sides of the civil rights divide demonize each other and compete in advocating stiffer laws infringing the favored rights of the other side. Too many civil arms advocates blame social ills on drug users and stigmatize those who call for an end to drug prohibition. Meanwhile, many who favor a repeal of drug prohibition demonize gun owners and propagate flagrant lies about civil arms.
Yet both sides are ultimately fighting for the same cause: to restore civil liberties and return to a more peaceful, less corrupt society.
Those who oppose prohibition realize that anti-drug laws don't achieve the desired results. The drug war has not made American streets safe from drugs; instead it has made drugs more dangerous and it has perpetuated gang warfare. The unintended consequences of drug prohibition have taken a heavy toll on American society. Yet many who oppose drug prohi-bition adopt the utopian dream that gun prohibition will somehow work to the betterment of society.
Those who oppose disarmament laws realize such laws don't stop criminals, but instead empower police agencies to harass innocent citizens and diminish the civil right of self-defense. Yet many who oppose disarmament laws blindly call for harsher drug laws, even though both types of laws result in unintended bad consequences.
The Constitution is in tatters because of the war on drugs and the associated war on guns. Nowhere does the federal Constitution empower Congress to restrict either drugs or civil arms. Because of drug prohibition and the resulting war on guns, eight of the ten articles of the Bill of Rights have been flagrantly violated.
The First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion has been overturned, insofar as a religion wishes to use a non-legal drug in its sacraments. The Second Amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms has been all but ignored. The Fourth Amendment right to secure property is smashed as militarized police forces bust down doors in the middle of the night to find "illegal drugs" and "illegal guns."
The Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process has been overrun as drug and gun warriors seize property without so much as filing charges. The Sixth Amendment right of a jury trial is similarly voided. The Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel punishment is abrogated when non-violent drug and gun offenders are locked away to be gang-raped in prison for sentences exceeding those meted out to many murderers.
The Ninth Amendment no longer protects other rights "retained by the people;" the Tenth Amendment no longer delimits the scope of the federal government. The command-and-control policies of Washington, D.C. reign supreme.
Drug prohibition has always been the prime cause of the war on guns. Following alcohol prohibition in the early 1900s, Congress passed the National Firearms Act, the first piece of federal legislation limiting civil arms, explicitly because of the gang violence caused by prohibition. (The need to reassign prohibition agents to other tasks also may have played a role in the passage of that 1934 Act.) More recently, Bill Bennett and George Bush banned the importation of certain rifles explicitly because of the violent black market caused by drug prohibition. Today, a leading cause of homicide and street violence is drug prohibition, problems which will not be solved by passing even more prohibition laws on guns.
Both the drug war and the gun war have always hurt minorities and the poor the most. The NAACP used to urge its members to bear arms in order to defend against the violent racists of the KKK. The Jim Crow laws against blacks included disarmament laws that left black people defenseless against violent racists. Indeed, one motive for passing the 14th Amendment was to overturn disarmament laws aimed at blacks. Other disarmament laws intentionally hurt other immigrant groups.
Today, minorities in the highest crime areas, where police protection is often weakest, most urgently need their civil rights of self-defense. Yet disarmament laws and the additional costs and legal hurdles they bring hurt poor communities especially.
Because of drug prohibition, America incarcerates a greater percentage of the population than any other nation on earth. Violent felons walk free in order to make room for more non-violent drug offenders. Police are more likely to bust a black drug offender than a white drug offender, and the courts are more likely to put the black person in prison for longer sentences. Drug prohibition exacerbates the already difficult problems of poor and minority neighborhoods.
If civil libertarians of the left and civil libertarians of the right will stop demonizing one another and join forces for the betterment of all people, the resulting political movement will be unstoppable. We will restore America to its rightful place as the defender of minorities Ñ all minorities Ñ and of individual civil rights. If the sides continue in their myopic and mutually destructive struggles, both may lose to the police state. It's time to stand together.