First and Second Amendments

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Which brings us to the Second Amendment. One of the terrible tragedies of our time is that more people do not understand the connection between the drug war and gun rights.


As soon as violating people’s rights to find drugs became excusable, the crusade against private gun ownership got a big boost. Both concern the ownership of inanimate objects. As wars on possession crimes, both government crusades rely on the same kinds of dirty tactics, the punishment of minor offenders with disproportionately long sentences as a deterrent, the erosion of due process, privacy and the rights of the accused.


The relationship between the drug war and violent crime has been documented. The spike in violent crime following prohibition has traditionally led to more severe enforcement of gun laws. Both gun control and the drug war lead to violent black markets, and thus more state power in a spiraling vicious cycle of mutual reinforcement.


It was, after all, the bootlegging gangs that emerged out of alcohol prohibition that served as the inspiration for the first major federal gun law: The National Firearms Act of 1934. A year after the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 passed on a similarly used an abusive interpretation of the Commerce Clause.


Moreover, just as with terrorism, the two issues became linked in law enforcement. Federal law mandates additional penalties if drug dealers are caught in mere possession of a firearm. Nobody wants to stick up for the rights of drug dealers to keep and bear arms. But so long as they are violating no one’s rights, they should be left in peace. There are many legitimate reasons, from a moral perspective, that a dealer would want to defend himself.


Many non-violent drug convicts are automatically denied the right to bear arms. This is a serious and grave attack on the human rights of drug convicts who have already paid a debt to society that they didn’t even owe.


The lesson is clear: If you want your right to self-defense protected, you must oppose drug prohibition.


Last but not least is the First Amendment, which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."


For years, politicians have wanted to censor us, using the drug war as an excuse. Probably the most notable example was Senators Feinstein and Hatch’s proposed Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, which in its original language would have outlawed speech that advocated drug use or production and cracked down on websites that merely linked to sites that sold drug paraphernalia. Then there is the more general chilling effect of students being harassed in public schools for outwardly advocating drug use or legalization.


Here in New Hampshire, Ian Freeman has been threatened with criminal penalties for the act of advocating drug possession.


As for religious liberty, American Indians have long used hallucinogens as religious rites, and have risked penalties under federal law for the peaceful exercise of religion. This brings us to a fundamental incompatibility between the First Amendment and the drug war.


Under the American Indian Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1994, American Indians can use peyote because it is part of their religion. But if something is peaceful, anyone should be allowed to do it, whether it is recognized by the government as religious or not. For peyote users to be jailed because they do not believe in its spiritual dimension is a de facto official government endorsement and granted privilege for some religious groups. If it can conceivably be allowed for the religious, it must constitutionally be allowed to everyone. Yet for peyote users to be jailed despite their religion is a violation of their religious liberty. The only way to reconcile religious liberty with federal drug law is to abolish it altogether.


Thus we see that Ludwig von Mises was hardly off the mark. The entire Bill of Rights has been shredded in the drug war. In Constitutional terms, "If one abolishes man’s freedom to determine his own consumption," one does indeed "take all freedoms away." With even the precious First Amendment battered, Mises was right that the drug warriors "unwittingly support the case of censorship, inquisition, religious intolerance, and the persecution of dissenters."


The alternative, say the drug warriors, would be worse. They persist in their claims that we are utopians and unrealistic. But it is their vision of a drug-free America that is unrealistic. America’s prisons are constantly monitored and prisoners have very little of what we would call civil liberty, yet drugs flow throughout the system. America itself could become one big drug prison and their vision would be no closer to being obtained.


And look what their policies have produced in our real world. I have explained how one casualty of the drug war has been the whole slate of our Constitutional liberties. But there have been other, sometimes more subtle, casualties as well.




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