Friday, November 15, 2013 | 7 comments

Guns and Booze: Another Comparison

By Connor Boyack

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Derek Monson, Director of Public Policy at Sutherland Institute, recently had an op-ed published in which he advocated for a policy proposal his organization will be pushing in Utah’s next legislative session, which begins in January 2014. Sutherland is hoping to reduce the legal blood alcohol content level from 0.08% to 0.05%.

Back in May, I wrote an article comparing the proposal to that of gun control—that if the sole quest to “save lives” then we must, to be consistent, support other restrictions on personal property and behavior. Derek commented on that article, indicating that the comparison was in his view invalid, since, “Alcohol, by its chemical nature, impairs human reasoning and judgment, slows reaction time, etc. in ways that guns do not.”

Despite clear differences between the two, I believe that the comparison remains apt, as you’ll see below.

But first, a qualifier: Derek is a good guy, and we get along. We (and our respective organizations) agree on many things, and I enjoy working together with them (or with anybody who agrees with us on an issue) when things line up. On this issue, however, we disagree.

Sutherland wants to punish more drivers who drink. Libertas would suggest we repeal DUI laws altogether.

Sounds crazy, right? Think about it, though: under the current law, people are criminals not for violating anybody’s rights, but for having a certain percentage of alcohol in their bloodstream—a data point they cannot assess without the government’s “Breathalyzer.” And a few gulps of booze can turn a person from sufficiently sober into criminal intoxication, as the reliance upon probabilities has led the legislature to decree that people at a certain percentage should be detained and punished, while others are free to move about their business.

Sutherland and its supporters believe that driving while drunk must be criminalized because the probability of harming another person, or one’s own self, increases dramatically as the person drinks. But government in a free society should not deal in probabilities—a true slippery slope if ever there was one. Instead, the law should punish actions (current, past, or imminent), to the extent that these actions violate another person’s rights.

It’s difficult to imagine the principle upon which a person can be punished by the state for drinking something when that individual has not harmed another person. To be sure, there is a chance that the individual might do so, but a free society steers clear of Minority Report-esque “pre-crime” in which people are declared criminals before actually committing a criminal act.

We desire to find ways to save innocent people from harm—absolutely. This cannot, however, be the sole metric or justifying basis upon which new or harsher restraints are implemented by the state. Just as we oppose gun control on these grounds, so too do we oppose alcohol control based on mere probabilities, mights, and maybes.

On the left is Derek’s op-ed, in which he advocates for lowering the BAC legal limit so police may punish drivers who are lower on the probability scale. As with May’s article, I’ve drawn the gun control comparison once more by substituting certain words in his op-ed to show how his general theme and specific arguments are ones which we’ve seen the “left” use time and again in their advocacy of greater gun controls.

Alcohol is a merciless killer. Every 53 minutes, alcohol-impaired driving kills someone on the roads in America, according to federal government data. Almost 10,000 lives lost unnecessarily each year. In 2011, 181 of these deaths were children under 14. Guns are merciless killers. Every 20 minutes, an armed criminal kills someone on the streets in America, according to federal government data. Over 11,000 lives lost unnecessarily each year. In 2010, 220 of these deaths were children under 14.
Controlling the production and use of alcoholic beverages saves innocent lives from such a tragic and premature end. These laws prevent traffic deaths by keeping impaired drivers off the road. They help safeguard innocent people from domestic violence and sexually transmitted diseases caused by alcohol-impaired decision making. And they protect the vulnerable and susceptible, such as children and recovering alcoholics, from the chains of alcohol abuse and addiction. Controlling the production and use of firearms saves innocent lives from such a tragic and premature end. These laws prevent needless deaths by keeping armed criminals off the streets. They help safeguard innocent people from domestic violence and gang activity caused by easy access to weapons. And they protect the vulnerable and susceptible, such as children and inner city residents, from the chains of firearm violence.
Yet despite all the benefits to society from alcohol control laws — grounded in common sense, sound research and clear-minded observation — some people still fight efforts to improve Utah’s alcohol control laws. Yet despite all the benefits to society from gun control laws — grounded in common sense, sound research and clear-minded observation — some people still fight efforts to improve Utah’s gun control laws.
Those who profit from looser liquor laws have come out screaming “NO!” in response to efforts to provide policy makers with research and facts regarding the National Transportation Safety Board‘s recommendation that states should lower the limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) — for all drivers — from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. Those who profit from looser firearm laws have come out screaming “NO!” in response to efforts to provide policy makers with research and facts regarding the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence‘s recommendation that states should close the massive loophole in the background check system.
Alas, their objections to this proposed improvement are refuted by decades of sound research. Alas, their objections to this proposed improvement are refuted by decades of sound research.
One of the liquor interests’ objections is that moving from 0.08 to 0.05 BAC restricts “the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving.” But 18 fatal car crashes between 2009 and 2011 in Utah involved drivers with BAC between 0.05 and 0.079, according to federal government data. I am disturbed that those who profit from drinking would support drinking and driving in any form. One of the “gun rights” interests’ objections is that requiring background checks on all gun sales restricts the “numerous legitimate reasons for buying guns from a private seller.” But nine illegal firearms transactions in 2011 in Utah involved investigators posting as a buyer admitting he couldn’t pass a background check. I am disturbed that those who profit from guns would support their illegal sale in any form.
One reason for these unnecessary deaths is that “virtually all drivers are impaired” at 0.05 BAC, according to a comprehensive review of the relevant peer-reviewed research. One reason for these unnecessary deaths is that “shooters had easy access to firearms” at school massacres, according to a comprehensive review of shooting deaths.
Symptoms of impairment at 0.05 BAC include lack of coordination, difficulty in visually tracking moving objects, and slower response time in emergency situations. To drive impaired at 0.05 BAC is to put the lives of innocent people in danger, as the likelihood of being involved in a fatal crash is four to six times higher at 0.05 BAC, depending on the age of the driver, according to research. Symptoms of easy access to guns include rising suicide rates, a proliferation of assault weapons, and too many massacres in our nation’s schools. To allow for an armed citizenry is to put the lives of innocent people in danger, as the likelihood of being involved in a firearm homicide is increased by .9% for every 1% increase in a state’s gun ownership, according to research.
Someone who chooses to drive while impaired at 0.05 BAC is not acting as a “responsible adult.” Someone who chooses to possess a dangerous gun, especially in a home with others present, is not acting as a “responsible adult.”
Another objection from the liquor interests against improving Utah’s BAC standard is that it “does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.” But according to research, it does. Another objection from the gun rights interests against improving Utah’s firearm background check standard is that it is a way for the government to confiscate weapons.” But according to research, it’s not true.
A comprehensive review of the relevant peer-reviewed research found that changing the BAC standard from 0.10 to 0.08 in the 1980s and 1990ssignificantly reduce[d] drinking drivers in fatal crashes at all BAC levels.” More specifically, itwas associated with an 18 percent decrease in the proportion of fatal crashes with a fatally injured driver whose BAC was 0.15 or greater.” A comprehensive review of the relevant peer-reviewed research found that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in the last 14 yearshas helped keep more than 1.5 million guns out of the wrong hands.” More specifically, “about 99 percent of people who apply to buy a firearm are quickly cleared.
The BAC standard is a general deterrent to drunken driving. Lower it, and all drivers — including “hardcore drunk drivers” — get the message that they should not drink as much (and ideally not at all) if they’re going to drive. In other words, the BAC standard works through self-government, not Big Government. The background check standard is a general deterrent to gun crimes. Close the loopholes, and all gun owners — including violent criminals — get the message that they should not carry their weapons as much (and ideally not at all) if they’re around other people. In other words, the background check standard works through self-government, not Big Government.
As Utah policymakers further scrutinize Utah’s current BAC standard and proposals to improve it, those who stand to profit from looser alcohol laws will surely seek to downplay the costs to Utah families caused by drinking and driving, and they will throw their money around to influence politicians. As Utah policymakers further scrutinize Utah’s current background check standard and proposals to improve it, those who stand to profit from looser gun control laws will surely seek to downplay the costs to Utah families caused by firearm homicides, and they will throw their money around to influence politicians.
In the quest to defend their profits, they may — as tobacco companies did — turn to “scientists for hire” who question obvious facts and debate the sound conclusions from decades of credible research. They may even lower themselves to simply smearing credible sources that disagree with their position and seeking to marginalize their opponents. In the quest to defend their profits, they may — as tobacco companies did — turn to “scientists for hire” who question obvious facts and debate the sound conclusions from decades of credible research. They may even lower themselves to simply smearing credible sources that disagree with their position and seeking to marginalize their opponents.
But “facts are stubborn things,” as John Adams famously said. And liquor profits notwithstanding, the facts are clear when it comes to this imperative: Protect innocent lives by improving Utah’s BAC standard. But “facts are stubborn things,” as John Adams famously said. And firearm profits notwithstanding, the facts are clear when it comes to this imperative: Protect innocent lives by improving Utah’s background check standard.


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About the Author

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute. He is the author of several books on politics and religion, including the Tuttle Twins series for children.


7 comments
MikeLondonIII
MikeLondonIII

This is an interesting concept, and one that I won't rush to judgment on. However, as I read the article, and the comments, I am reminded of an old anecdote from John Finch;

   "This arm is my arm (and my wife’s), it is not yours. Up here I have a right to strike out with it as I please. I go over there with these gentlemen and swing my arm and exercise the natural right which you have granted; I hit one man on the nose, another under the ear, and as I go down the stairs on my head, I cry out:

    “Is not this a free country?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Have not I a right to swing my arm?”

    “Yes, but your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

    Here civil government comes in to prevent bloodshed, adjust rights, and settle disputes."

 I think, for me, the answer lies here: At what point does your drinking, and the unavoidable fact of probability, infringe on my expectation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I say it does so at the point of a reasonable threshold of behavior modifying intoxication. Of course, drowsy/distracted driving are just as potentially dangerous, however, at this current point in time, I don't know of a way to reliably gauge, or more importantly, document/prove those factors. I believe society's (read: many individuals) right to be free of those infringements caused by the drinker trumps the rights of the individual drinker.

 Additionally, since the comparison of gun rights was used, I would ask this. If I was negligently firing a weapon amongst/around other people, WITH NO INTENTION OF HURTING ANYONE, would someone in the crowd be justified in using deadly force to stop me? I believe the answer is resoundingly YES. Since law enforcement is acting on behalf of the citizen, I think it is quite reasonable for society to develop an arbitrary "red line". 

-Mike London

ddk
ddk

If hitting a certain level of risk equals criminality than people who don't get enough sleep, who are particularly emotional, who have a lot on their mind, who are old, who don't react as fast as others, etc are all criminals who deserve to be punished when they are driving a car. Having a bad day? Get a taxi. Lots of deadlines coming up soon? Don't you dare touch that car! Baby didn't sleep well? Bus stop time. And to be fair, different people handle different levels of intoxication, sleep deprivation, etc differently. It's impossible to make crime by probability just, nor does it make sense if you were to apply it consistently. To be consistent you would have to fine people who hit a certain level of anger because they are more prone to violence. Some people would be fined for being alive. "Hey you! Yeah, you clumsy, forgetful, easily distracted, accident just waiting to happen, come here! I've got to give you your daily ticket for being alive! You put us all at risk just by breathing!"

davidmpark
davidmpark

A trucker friend of mine was off-duty and had taken his motorcycle to a bar. Instead of driving home he knew that he'd be taking a cab, but had to deal with the motorcycle. So, my friend arranged to leave it inside the bar and come back later. A highway patrolman saw him moving the bike on foot (not even straddling it, and had it in neutral - engine not on) and cited him with DUI and he lost his CDL license, $15,000, and ended up working at a Home Depot. These DUI laws go too far.

Anonymouse
Anonymouse

 "Sutherland wants to punish more drivers who drink. Libertas would suggest we repeal DUI laws altogether."

The former is just a form of herding people like livestock and teaching them how to live their lives. The latter would remove the accountability when someone harms someone else.

Therefore, I am suggesting a middle ground solution: DUI laws should kick in ONLY as an aggravating factor when somebody causes an accident.



JamesCappuccio
JamesCappuccio

@Insidious  I would suggest re-reading the article. He clearly identifies that there are differences between the two along those lines. That being said, impaired judgment does not a criminal make. A person ending a 12-hour shift at the hospital could be tired and thereby have impaired judgement. But these circumstances should not be illegal because they have not harmed anyone nor do they express the intent to harm anyone.

The focus here is on actions (that's why it was italicized). The government has the right to prosecute violations (or imminent violations) of personal rights, not probabilities of violations of personal rights.

Insidious
Insidious

Does holding a gun impair judgement? The longer one holds a gun, does it increase impairment of judgement? If I hold a gun for an hour, then get in a car and drive, does my risk of getting into an accident and possibly killing someone dramatically increase? Your comparisons are look neat on paper, but in a real world application, lack any real merit.

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