Legalising P?

Following from the shooting of Sergeant Wilkinson last week while investigating a suspected P lab, there has been some discussion around the blogs on whether we should be throwing greater resources to fight P, or legalise it – two completely opposite approaches that are both designed to take P away from the gangs.

Kiwipolemicist does a good summary of the arguments for legalising P and other drugs from a Christian perspective. The argument basically comes down to:

Drugs and alcohol are essentially the same thing, i.e. both are psychoactive substances (something that affects the mind). It is illogical and hypocritical for the government to make one psychoactive substance legal – alcohol – and outlaw other psychoactive substances – drugs. …

… the gangs  that the government bleats about get a huge amount of their power and money through the sale of drugs. The quickest and simplest way to give gangs a kick in the family jewels is to make drugs legal. …

“Drugs are harmful” you say. Yes, drugs are harmful, but that is not a rational reason for making them illegal. Cigarettes are harmful, and no one seriously proposes making them illegal; it is a double standard to support the illegalisation of drugs because they are harmful unless you also support making everything else that is harmful illegal.

Which seems to make a lot of sense initially, as this approach allows you to be perfectly consistent across all substances. Blair Mulholland talks from this perspective with regards to P. If you are interested in the issue, read the whole of both articles.

But would legalising drugs really help? Scrubone effectively pulls this argument apart.

There’s one problem with this. Pure methamphetamine is so addictive that people would most emphatically not stop after the first try. They’d try it again. All I have heard (and I even had a neighbor who was previously addicted to it) is that this drug captures you the first, or at most second time you use it and then that’s it – you’re addicted and it’s incredibly hard to get out. So if only 25% of the population try it, that’s at least 20% who are going to be addicted.

What happens then? Addicts are able to purchase it for $5, so their money would last longer – assuming that they didn’t just ramp up their addiction instead. So a year or two down the track they’ve lost everything. What do they do then?

Well, my bet would be that the portion of the population who would be addicted by that stage would start stealing. Sure, you don’t need to rob a bank to get $5. You can just purse snatch for that, or smash someone’s window or whatever. Trivial stuff.

Except that every time my window gets smashed for the sake of $5, the cost to me or my insurance company is more like $100 or more. Who pays for that? Why, I do and the jolly taxpayer who has to foot the bill for increased police to fight petty crime and people “going crazy”.

Again, read the whole article. We can’t just ban stuff because it is harmful to the user, that is why the Greens moves to ban pies and stuff in schools are ridiculous. But when something causes damage to wider society, as drugs like P do, then the correct response is to restrict them. Greater availability of substances like P could cause great harm.

There has to be a balance somewhere, on most issues the classical liberals talk sense in my opinion. But if you bluntly apply liberal principles to every single issue, you could do just as much damage as if you bluntly apply state control to every single issue.

Sometimes liberalism is the way to go. Sometimes restrictions are the way to go. We need to be flexible enough to use the solution that works best on each issue.

Should air rifles be restricted?

After the fatal shooting of police Sergeant Don Wilkinson, probably with a high-powered air rifle, Police Commissioner Howard Broad has stated that he will review the Arms Act. Currently air rifles can be purchased by anyone over the age of 18 (or 16 with a gun licence), even though some now are as powerful as hunting rifles. The fact that you cannot buy a .22 rifle or ammunition without a gun licence, but can buy an air rifle of equivalent power without one, is an inconsistency that is worth looking into.

But would tightening up the firearms regulations actually do any good? If air rifles were restricted, would Don Wilkinson be alive today? Probably not.

Pistols collected after Don Wilkinson shooting - NZ Herald 12/09/08

Pistols collected after Don Wilkinson shooting - NZ Herald 12/09/08

When police raided the house he was investigating, and a bank safe associated with it, they found three pistols and ammunition. Pistols are restricted class B weapons – you need a firearms licence, with a pistol endorsement (B endorsement), you must be a member of a pistol club and attend at least 12 meetings of the pistol club annually, you require a permit to procure from the police before you can buy one, and you can only take the pistol between your home, the club and a gun dealer. These are heavily restricted weapons, yet they had three of them.

These criminals had no difficulty aquiring weapons. Had air rifles been restricted, Sergeant Wilkinson would have been shot with something else.

Furthermore, the current law works both ways. The same law that allowed these criminals to buy their air rifle, allowed Christchurch dairy owner Nike to purchase the air pistol that he used to defend himself and his wife against two knife-wielding robbers last month. In this case, this same law could well have saved two lives. At the time, much of the public seemed to fully support his right to have an air pistol and defend himself, and criticised the Police for confiscating his pistol and saying he had acted inappropriately. Now, another high profile incident one month later could persuade the same people to want to change the law that allowed him to do this.

We must remember the full facts, and not jump to a hasty conclusion from any one incident, however regrettable.

To prevent this happening in future, there are three main things we can do:

  • Strengthen families, reducing the number of wayward youth that are attracted into gangs and drugs in the first place.
  • Focus police resources on conquering the P epidemic, which is behind this shooting.
  • Equip police with the tools they need to do their jobs. If Sergeant Wilkinson had been armed himself, he may not have died.

But tightening up the regulations too far (beyond the possibly logical step of putting rifles of the same power under the same regulations for consistency) will not harm the gangs at all – they are already capable of obtaining restricted weapons. There are hundreds of thousands of guns in the country already, a large proportion of which are owned by unlicenced owners – I am not saying that is ok, it is just the reality. Tightening up the regulations would however reduce the ability of people such as dairy owners to defend themselves, and therefore play into the hands of the gangs.

Tightening the regulations in this way would be a feel-good but completely useless act, similar to merging the MOT with the Police in the past, banning gang patches, and the current proposal to merge the Serious Fraud Office with the police. We need to focus on real solutions, rather than political meddling.

Check out the Family Party official response to this incident, written by Richard Lewis, a former South Auckland police sergeant and the leader of the Family Party.