Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

Lady Liquor: What gun owners (and the firearms lobby) can learn from drunks (and the liquor lobby)

I drink. I like to drink. I do it for a lot of reasons and I'm glad I have the right to do it. (The right to drink was actually never taken away from the public, but we'll get to that in a minute.)

I also grew up in a family in which some people abused alcohol. Most of the details of that, I'll refrain from making your business, as they involve folks who haven't consented to be written about here. The point is, I am under no illusion that drinking is only a personal and private choice. And not just in cases where people drink and get behind the wheels of cars, beat or sexually assault their parnters or children or die too young of cirhhosis of the liver because they drank too much: the subtler effects of drinking on human behavior affect the drinker's work and relationships, and these can ripple outward. Anyone who's ever lost a job due to a single, unproductive, hungover morning, or had a friendship go south after one boozy night, knows what I'm talking about. (I broke my foot earlier this year in a bike accident after riding home with a couple of cocktails in my system. It cost me the part-time job I was using to supplement freelance work, and that affected my finances, and my financial status has affected my relationships with my friends. Heck, so has my reduced mobility, an ongoing thing I am still getting used to. So, drunks – and users of other intoxicants – can we agree that "I'm only hurting myself" is not necessarily the right way of talking about these things?)

Some of the negative effects of drinking – particularly the subtle ones – are, I think, best managed in privacy. Break a wine glass? Sweep it up, go to Ikea or the thrift store and get some more. Find out you're pregnant following a boozy one-night stand? Do what you think is best. From that perspective I've been sympathetic to the NRA's rhetoric about responsible, educated gun ownership. I think there is such a thing; I really do. Just as I think there is such a thing as responsible, educated alcohol consumption.

And I think if gun-owning hobbyists are serious about protecting their right to access the tools of their avocation, they can take a few lessons from alcohol policy, both in history and current practice.

 

  1. "Prohibitions don't work" is both true and a massive oversimplification of history.

    While people who want to, and have the means, will always defy the law, the argument that Prohibition failed because of human nature isn't really consistent with what the historical data tell us: public health records indicate that fewer people died of acute alcohol overdose and alcohol-related conditions both during Prohibition and after, and the survey data that we have suggests that, while many people flouted the law, many people didn't care about alcohol enough to try making it or spend the money to procure illegal hooch.

    This was partly because the Volstead Act was badly written: the law made it illegal to sell hooch, but not to buy or drink it. It didn't set aside funds for enforcement. I'm glad Prohibition failed. (Am I ever.) But I don't think its failure was inevitable. Is it likely that some people will continue to purchase and trade in guns if stricter gun control laws are enforced? Almost certainly. But it does not stand to reason that well-written and reasonably enforced firearms legislation will inevitably result in an expanded underground gun trade.

  2. Regulation is not Prohibition. In fact, regulation is the opposite of Prohibition. The final nail in Prohibition's coffin was the Great Depression. People were still drinking; farmers needed a market for their crops; the federal government needed the tax revenue. Alcohol had been subject to special taxes since the founding of the Republic, and not cashing in on that began to look unconscionable. Legalizing, taxing an regulating alcohol turned out to be better for the industry and for the public than making sales illegal. Many states still have ridiculous, dated liquor laws on the books; my state prohibits the sale of alcohol on the site where it's made, but it's totally legal for vintners, brewers and distillers to sell their wares onsite provided they first ship it away, then back to themselves. It's a vestigial law that was probably written with illegal brewers and moonshiners in mind, but now it just creates another loophole for legitimate businesses. But I get that the industry needs to be regulated. So does the industry. Instead of claiming that all regulations and restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption are a step towards Prohibition – and engaging in vocal opposition to the same – alcohol manufacturers and others have asked for a seat at the table.

  3. Be honest. Anyone – drunk, industry rep or PR flak – who told me alcohol was, in all cases, harmless, would get laughed out of the room. Anyone who told me, drunk or sober, that there's no difference between having two glasses of wine with Sunday dinner, and downing a whole bottle of vodka every morning before work, would be met with similar incredulity. The majority of gun owners I know don't believe the NRA speaks for them, but over the past few days I've seen gun hobbyists make claims similar to these: that there's no difference between wanting to own an assault rifle and wanting to own an antique pistol or a switchblade, and that therefore we should take a hands-off policy toward regulating any weapons.

If in policy and culture, we can recognize that not all uses of alcohol are equivalent, that alcohol itself is neither inherently benign nor inherently dangerous, and that it's possible to prevent unnecessary deaths by regulating booze sensibly, we can apply the same concept to our thinking about firearms. People who like guns, who participate in hobbies that have guns, should demand to be part of a conversation that honestly examines which regulations are likely to have a helpful effect on public health and safety, and which are more likely to cause more problems than they solve. 

Previously: Gender Behind the Bar

Enjoy reading this article? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today!

Subscribe to Bitch

Comments

9 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Well. That seals it. I'm

Well. That seals it. I'm officially done with this bullshit site. This article is so awful. It's badly edited and the author is MAKING THE CASE FOR KEEPING ASSAULT RIFLES LEGAL. Never mind that pretty recently the death of an abused woman was due to her partner running around with a fucking gun, leaving a child orphaned.

Plus the recent heteronormative crap, the awful article about how to be nice to men who hit on you (AND I'M NOT EVEN THAT PRETTY,) erasing women from 'gay,' and the boi that blamed all his problems on the women who went out with him... I don't even fucking know. Bitch is a total fucking joke.

I can only hope you and your offensive bullshit shuts down in a year.

Did we read the same article?

Where did the author make the case for keeping assault rifles legal? The only thing I see in there is that she says "...responsible, educated gun ownership. I think there is such a thing...". If you've clearly misinterpreted what was said here, your vitriol about Bitch's other articles is just as likely to be baseless.

Unfortunately I believe that

Unfortunately I believe that you are lacking reading comprehension. I believe that the author made some valid points about how we should be looking at the gun control debate (prohibition vs regulation, the safety of our own hobbies should be examined to determine what is best for public health). The author did not make a case for keeping assault rifles legal. I really think you should go back and reread this because I don't know where you're getting those conclusions.

What the .....

This is the reason we need professional jurors and voters! It's the inability to think and reason that will ultimately be the down fall of this country! And sadly because their numbers are growing faster, they will win in the end.

U mad, bro?

U mad, bro?

So, how drunk were you when

So, how drunk were you when you read the article...?

Anyway,
What an insightful and well written article! It definitely provoked me to think about alcohol and gun laws in new ways! Thanks! :)

Bravo!!!!

Very very well written!! Obviously some readers (and I say this loosely because it's apparent not all can actually read thus probably have a rather low IQ and therefore must have great difficulty with reason . . . sad) have such a preconditioned irrational response that they continually add and project into the article/issue and onto the author/speaker things that aren't even there. They can be so blinded to truth that they place blame and responsibility on an inanimate object. Amazing! Do these same people blame cars for accidents? Do we need to outlaw cars now and make them illegal? uh . . . no! It's the nut behind the wheel. Figure it out! Gun-violence is a misnomer and should be just violence. And violence is the real social problem and issue that is pervasive in movies and video games. So if you really care about society and people you will redirect your anger and energy toward the true cause and source. But, sadly I also realize that there will be those that can't read or understand this post either. :(

From a European viewpoint

You have pointed out some similarities between alcohol and guns. But there is also a major difference: alcohol can be damaging to your health, your relationships, your life in general. But it need not be. Many couples would have never gotten together without "dutch courage" and many people over here drink a glass of wine every day and are nothing the worse for it. But how can owning and using a gun ever contribute to your - or anybody else's - wellbeing?
And I honestly don't understand why US-Americans still discuss whether a weapons ban would work - of course it does! Just look to all European countries. The murder rates here are much much lower than in the US. And we are definitely not better people - there is as much (if not in some countries more) discrimination going on here as in the states, and there are hate crimes against immigrants, refugees, lesbigaytrans* people as well. They are just far less "effective". That means that less people get killed. Which is without a doubt a good thing.
It is so terrible and sad to hear about all those school shootings.
It cannot be that the majority of people in the US really believe they need a weapon to be independent. I believe that many are being manipulated and misinformed by the armaments industry, but you have such a strong culture of civil movements, of groups of people who set in motion a process for change for the better. Please, do this for yourselves, my heart bleeds for those children, those teachers.

(I apologize for any language mistakes, English is not my mother tongue)

Great points! The fundamental

Great points!

The fundamental problem between comparing guns and alcoholic drinks is that there is a major difference in their purposes: alcohol is consumed for intoxication and enjoyment; guns are primarily used as the ultimate self-defense weapon, with the potential to kill. Guns can also be kept for aesthetic and historic reasons and some are used for hunting, but a functioning gun with functioning bullets designed to kill people is used primarily for its potential to kill. I can understand keeping an ancestor's historic rifle for historic or sentimental reasons; I can understand keeping a weapon primarily for self-defense (pepper spray, tasers, hell, even a gun with rubber bullets). I CANNOT understand keeping a military-grade weapon capable of firing 600+ rounds per minute, using bullets that cause maximum possible damage, in a country where there is no war being fought. And one such weapon was used in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.