Pubdate: Mon, 19 Feb 2007
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Johann Hari
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Guns Are Not Inherent to the Sale of Drugs, Only to the Sale of Drugs 
Under Prohibition

In our week-long national shriek about south London slowly morphing 
into South Central, one key word has been missing: prohibition.

We have stared at the soft no-need-to-shave face of Billy Cox, the 
15-year-old weed-dealer shot in his bedroom in the shadow of the City 
of London. We have half-sniggered at the Ali G names of the gangs he 
was up against: the Brick Lane Massive, the Paki Panthers, the Ghetto 
Boys of Peckham. We have learned you can buy handguns for UKP200 and 
a machine gun for UKP4,000 on the street. But we have failed to see 
that the events of the past week are simply following the inexorable 
logic of drug prohibition.

Here's how it works. By criminalising the trade in cannabis, cocaine 
and heroin, we don't make the drugs disappear. We simply hand this 
multi-billion pound industry - around 3 per cent of Britain's GDP - 
to armed gangs. A fortnight ago, two of the most powerful drug 
dealers in south London were sent to prison, so a slew of gangs is 
now fighting to take over their patch, their trade and their profits. 
The boys who are being gunned down are rivals for these riches. They 
will keep shooting their opponents until one gang emerges as the 
clear winner, or until a few gangs band together in an obviously 
unbeatable alliance.

So these gun-toting posses of kids have not tooled up simply to play 
the Big Man and look like Snoop Dogg (though no doubt it's an 
incidental pleasure). This is not Columbine-style senseless violence. 
It is happening for hard economic reasons. Milton Friedman, the late 
Nobel Prize-winning economist, understood this. He explained: "Al 
Capone epitomises our earlier attempt at Prohibition; the Crips and 
Bloods epitomise this one."

He saw a central truth. Guns are not inherent to the sale of drugs. 
They are only inherent to the sale of drugs under prohibition. Go to 
a pub or off-license in Hackney, and you'll find that Oddbins and 
Costcutters are not engaged in a turf-war. The Tesco Posse and the 
Sainsbury's Massive are not taking out each other's homies over the 
right to sell Tetley's Bitter. Why? Because their trade is not 
subject to prohibition. If somebody tries to steal their stock, they 
can call the police.

But prohibited substances can only be protected with private force. 
That's why the underground bars in Chicago needed Capone's guns, and 
why today - according to Scotland Yard estimates - 95 per cent of the 
guns in Britain are linked to the drugs trade. Friedman calculated 
that there are 10,000 additional murders in the US every year as a 
result of drug prohibition: a vast mass grave of slaughtered dealers, 
their families, and (mostly) random people caught in the crossfire. 
We are now building a replica-pit in Britain.

Yet our politicians are too pickled in prohibitionist platitudes to 
see this. Tony Blair is talking about extending prison sentences for 
carrying guns, but this is a weapon with no ammunition. If you talk 
to any of these gang-kids, they'll tell you their odds of ever being 
caught are tiny.

They're right. As Stephen Lander, chairman of the Serious and 
Organised Crime Agency, puts it: "If you are an organised crook for 
20 years, you have a 5 per cent chance of getting nicked." This isn't 
because of police laxness; it's because the drugs trade is so vast 
the police can only ever hope to pick at its surface. Adding a few 
extra years to a hypothetical sentence you'll never serve is no 
deterrent at all to a gang member.

David Cameron is offering a parallel fantasy-solution when he talks 
about gluing together broken families as The Answer. He points to 
research that shows the children of divorced parents are more likely 
to turn to crime - but this is irreparably punctured by the findings 
of sociologist Louie Burghe, who discovered that these kids actually 
start to do worse on every indicator long before their parents split 
up. The problem isn't divorce; it's having incompatible parents who 
can't stand each other. Bribing warring parents to stay together, as 
Cameron wants to, may actually - according to this evidence - make 
the problem worse.

No. The only real solution is to take the drugs trade back from the 
gun-wielding gangster-children, and hand it to doctors and 
pharmacists and off-licenses. This would bankrupt most of our 
criminal gangs overnight, and remove the need for (and purchasing 
power behind) 95 per cent of the guns in Britain.

Of course many criminals will try to move into other forms of illegal 
enterprise, such as money-laundering or people-trafficking, but none 
will have the profit margins of the old drugs trade and all carry 
higher risks, boosting the relative utility of going straight. A boy 
like Billy Cox would not be drawn to them. He would still be alive 
today - and so would thousands more victims of our failing, flailing 
"war on drugs". 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake