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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

HOW TO COMBAT RISING GUN CRIME: LEGALIZE DRUGS In today's Telegraph Philip Johnston argues against a routinely-armed police force. Most of his arguments are quite convincing. Here is the point that I am specifically interested in:

On average, there are 30 incidents every day, mostly in the big cities, though the use of handguns is also growing in rural communities. The main reason for the growth is the drugs trade. Dealers carry weapons to protect themselves from other criminals and a mandatory five-year jail sentence for possessing a gun is little deterrent for someone who will go to prison anyway for up to 14 years if he is caught trafficking in crack or heroin. For some in the drugs underworld, a gun is little more than a fashion accessory.

Of course legalizing drugs wouldn't put a complete end to crime and specifically gun crime, but it would massively lower its occurance. But we have to ask, how many underworlders would carry a gun simply as a fashion accessory if they didn't need it for their personal safety and the penalty was years in prison? The simple fact is that the craving for drugs is a fundamental part of human existence. That is why there are no societies that do completely without drugs. We simply have to accept that Britain today, like other Western societies, isn't content with alcohol and nicotine.
Commenting on police officeers dying in the line of duty Johnston notes that:

Many more died in Northern Ireland, where the police have always been routinely armed. Terrorism and the need to patrol hostile communities that simply did not accept the state's writ made "normal" policing impossible in the province.
But this is not the case in mainland Britain. Since the time of Robert Peel, it has been accepted that, if the police are to have the consent of the public, they should be unarmed.

Policing by consent is the idea. As many surveys have shown however, the majority of British public opinion is relaxed enough about most soft drugs as to support their decriminalization. Clearly the law and public sentiment are out of step here. That is a reason why policing by consent is becoming more difficult: there is no public consent for the big crackdown on drugs, so hostility and disinterest by the public in regards to the police's activities are logical consequences. The solution to this is legalization. This will concentrate the police's efforts on real crimes and thus be more effective, more consensual and thus closer to Robert Peel's original vision, a vison we shouldn't lose.

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