How prohibitions endure

US has numerous state level prohibitions on alcohol before the national one was enacted. I wondered how people stood for those and didn’t shoot the culprits out of hand. Then, a thought occurred to me that explained how prohibitions of all kind endure.

Two parties benefit from prohibitions, politicians for the graft and the criminals for smuggling. Both groups are used to using violence to enforce their interests, and neither wants the prohibition to end. Prohibiting something is the quickest way for criminals and politicians acting in de-facto cooperation to capture an existing industry.

Of the people affected by prohibitions, the vast majority is inconvenienced on a practical level and just wants continued access. That serves the politicians and the criminals just fine, that where much of their money comes from. The minority opposed to prohibitions on ethical grounds seldom takes direct actions because they are non-violent by nature, and because killing the individuals responsible wouldn’t change laws for the better.

This holds on prohibitions on alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other consumables. It also holds for prohibitions on most technologies because few realize what they are missing. That does not hold for prohibitions on weapons though. Unlike all other goods, weapons are the main tool by which enforcement of a prohibition can be challenged. One doesn’t fight the ban on drugs with cocaine or pot, nor on alcohol with whiskey or wine. But a prohibition on rifles can be fought with rifles. And that’s there the “fight, flight or submit” decision fork may be resolved in favor of fight. Giving up means much reduced future opportunity to resist and, unlike recreational drugs, booze or other optional goods, weapons are in the same category as water and food — it’s possible to live without them, but not for very long or very well. And definitely not at all free.

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13 Responses to How prohibitions endure

  1. Chris Tucker says:

    You have a valid point. You also link guns with the national disaster that was Prohibition.

    I have suggested that instead of calling Bloomberg and others “gun banners” we should refer to them as “Gun Prohibitionists”. My reasoning is two fold.

    If there is one thing people remember about Prohibition it is that it didn’t work. Anyone could still get whatever they wanted pretty much anywhere. This is the way our current prohibition on drugs is today. Heroin is not produced in this hemisphere but it is available in every city, even in small towns.

    People also know that criminals had access to the booze under Prohibition, just as criminals would have access to firearms under Gun Prohibition.

    People can see the futility if we use words to remind them of past attempts at controlling human behavior through banning objects.

  2. DonM says:

    Guns are 14th century technology. Beer is -2000 technology. Bans are not possible.

    Of course we haven’t seen much of an uprising in Chicago, NY, or Washington DC, or perhaps we have, in people moving out of the city to suburbs.

    • LarryArnold says:

      14th century? Really? I recently had a 30-something lady assure me she wasn’t anti-gun, but she grew up before there were all those nasty “semiautomatic weapons of war.”

      πŸ˜‰

      • Oleg Volk says:

        Cannon goes back to early 14th. Rifles with range-adjustable sights date back to about 1415. Revolvers to about 1550.

        • LarryArnold says:

          I’m afraid I got nasty and mentioned the Mannlicher Model of 1885, Sturmgewehr 44, and yes the M-16. I refrained from mentioning she looked remarkably well-preserved.

  3. Howard says:

    Don: The uprising in these cities is passive, in that many, many people just do not comply. Nothing has changed, people still own guns. The Politicians don’t worry about laws anyway , they will pass a law that protects them , point in fact , California past a law exempting their state politicians from all gun laws. Nothing changes ,D.C is STILL the worst capital city in the world for crime, with the worst slum area, and possibly the most unregistered guns.

  4. Kevin Menard says:

    There is a lovely book about the same issue: “Bootleggers and Baptists” https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NJ47G06/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1#navbar

    I first heard the comparsion 30 years ago when a town in Texas was voting to go wet. An older fellow told me it was the Baptist preachers and the bootleggers driving the dry side. He suggested some overlap…

  5. LarryArnold says:

    The Politicians don’t worry about laws anyway , they will pass a law that protects them
    One of the laws that passed the Texas Legislature last session (2015) was House Bill 554: Relating to a defense to prosecution for the offense of possessing or carrying a weapon in or into the secured area of an airport. It provides that persons who are licensed to carry, and who accidentally carry into the secured area of an airport, may be given an opportunity to leave the secure area if their gun is discovered.

    The law wasn’t passed because a lot of regular people were getting arrested, it passed because so many politicians, sports stars, and other celebrities were getting caught, and not getting arrested, it got embarrassing.

  6. Lyle says:

    Nice article.

    “…criminals and politicians acting in de-facto cooperation…”

    Yes, well it’s often de facto and just as often planned. Don’t forget law enforcement either– they get a big piece of he action, no matter whether they’re “honest” or they’re cooperating willingly with the criminals. Just for one example; how many pink slips would be issued (meaning how many would lose their law enforcement and other criminal justice system jobs) if all drugs were legalized tomorrow? No more DEA, and besides that a big chunk of any LE Dept. funding is for drug enforcement. Forgetting their payola, the jobs and funding alone will prevent law enforcement from supporting an end to Prohibitions. In that sense they’re all corrupt, money and job security taking precedence over their sworn duty to uphold, defend and protect the constitution.

    I’ll have a hard time ever feeling sorry for any one of them, but then again, that is part of the overall plan.

  7. EgregiousCharles says:

    There’s another factor in preserving prohibitions, it’s the businesses that grow up based on workarounds. In Pennsylvania, for example, there was an ancient intention that only bars would sell beer (and state stores would sell other alcohol), so without a bar-type liquor license you can only sell by the case as a “distributor”. Beer “distributors” which sell by the case are the normal store for customers here, and are the main lobby preserving these regulations as they don’t want their business model upset.

  8. Alex says:

    …it not that complicated. When you discover there’s a law allowing a law enforcement nobodya to arrest a citizen because he felt “insulted”, something .went badly wrong. I never heard about a law conferring the same right to a citizen. Try to get close to s law enforcer and you are more likely to get shot than not .
    Do you know that the homeland security agency is the biggest arms and ammo in USA? Bigger than the USArmy!
    My guess is that the corruption and “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude Is the root of all evil.
    I think it was Waldi Emerson who said:” if people choose not to stand up and defend their rights, they can’t complain if , after a while, the law follows in their footsteps”.
    Gentlemen, living to have fun is no fun at all.

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