45 Years, 45 Days: Voodoo Social Policy


For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

Writing in Reason's October 1994 issue, Jacob Sullum explained what gun control and the War on Drugs have in common:

Gun control and drug control are usually associated with opposite ends of the political spectrum. Presidents Reagan and Bush were eager to pursue the war on drugs but generally wary of gun control. President Clinton has made gun control a major goal, while his drug strategy is almost invisible. But these two policies have much in common at both a philosophical and a practical level. Both blame inanimate objects for complex social problems, promising to control crime and disorder by controlling their symbols. And both are ultimately harmful, for many of the same reasons.

Given the symbolic power of guns and drugs, it's not surprising that efforts to control them have been shaped by racism and xenophobia, by fear of outsiders and the disruption associated with them. In the United States, attempts to ban inexpensive handguns have historically been motivated by fear of blacks and members of other minority groups.