One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, getting the same result, and always expecting a different result. It could also be a useful definition for stupidity. And, it could also be a useful description of American policy towards guns and drugs over the past forty years. Despite steadfast adherence to failed strategies the United States has stayed mired on the wrong road. Stuck on stupid, as it were.
During the past forty years the United States has had the dubious distinction of having the highest death-by-gun rate per capita of any country in the world. Americans die of gun-related homicides and accidents at horrific rates, punctuated by random catastrophes like Aurora or Virginia Tech or Tucson or Columbine. The primary cause of death of young black men is homicide committed by young black men, typically murdered by a gun.
The United States also is a world leader in the illegal use of drugs. Whether the drug of choice is marijuana, cocaine, oxytocin or methamphetamines, Americans ingest drugs at rates that can only be described as amazing. And despite the expenditure of billions of dollars during the past forty years, drug use and drug abuse continues virtually unabated. And the collateral consequence of the drug trade has been the appearance of mammoth criminal enterprises that control entire neighborhoods in American cities and sometimes entire countries that supply the eternal desire for the eternal high.
The United States has assumed world class status by virtue of it being a focal point for innovation and original thought. This is why it is all the more surprising that, when it comes to guns and drugs, America stays stuck on stupid, trying the same failed policies over and over and expecting that somehow, someway, the results will be different someday.
Despite the daily gun carnage that takes place in the United States, the exceedingly vocal minority gun absolutists, led by the National Rifle Association, have totally hijacked any opportunity for debate and sane discussion on the issue on the control of guns. That anyone could seriously connect possession of armor piercing bullets or assault rifles to some contrived constitutional right is bizarre enough. That such a wrongheaded and societally suicidal mindset could set the narrative for gun control is nothing short of appalling.
There seems to be no death toll high enough, no massacre grotesque enough that will empower and enable common sense in the national dialogue when it comes to guns. Presidents have been slain, heroes have been slaughtered, children have been routinely sacrificed at the point of a gun and still, there is no change in the national dialogue. One wonders what ghastly catastrophe would finally get this country to stop being stuck on stupid when it comes to guns.
And all the while, despite a pitifully ineffective multibillion dollar “war” on drugs during the past forty years, drug usage has not been significantly decreased. But this “war” has eviscerated black and Latino communities across this country through the incarceration of young men for decades for charges that have little or nothing to do with drug trafficking or drug manufacture. The illegal status of these drugs has spawned a prison industrial complex that is highly profitable. The illegal status of these drugs has also given rise to local, national and international drug cartels that trade their commodities on a global level in the multibillion dollar stratosphere.
For those who think that a “war” on drugs is somehow better than legalizing drugs, I recommend “Last Call” by Daniel Okrent. Dr. Okrent chronicles the disastrous failure of Prohibition and points out that it was Prohibition that gave rise to the major national criminal syndicates which plague this country to this very day. Why anyone would think that this “war” on drugs would fare any better than the “war” on alcohol is baffling – the expression “wishful thinking” comes to mind. And so does “stuck on stupid”.
Billions of dollars and millions of lives are being wasted by the structurally damaged American strategies regarding guns and drugs. It is plain to see that there is not enough of a law enforcement presence when it comes to guns. It is also quite clear that the absolute criminalization of the use of drugs has only produced failure with toxic impact on entire communities, and in some cases entire countries.
I do not know how long this country can stay stuck on stupid when it comes to guns and drugs. But it is clear that, until and unless there is change, the reign of misery connected to guns and drugs in America will not end.