Failure of Prohibition: A History and a Prediction

There have been times when government tried, but failed, to remove from society certain consumer products.

The Prohibition era began with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919, outlawing all manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic products. Prohibition of such “crimes” began on January 17, 1920 and lasted until December 5th, 1933 when the 21st Amendment repealed the practice. It did not eliminate the consumption or demand for alcohol, however, but only drove the supply out of public sight. Numerous people, otherwise innocent, were prosecuted, fined, jailed, or simply killed outright as a consequence of this policy.

In April, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order outlawing private ownership of gold coins, bullion, and certificates. He prosecuted and punished a few people, using well-publicized methods, to ensure that everyone else got the message and relinquished their holdings. Ultimately, however, all that was accomplished was that privately held gold went underground. Eventually, in 1974, President Gerald R. Ford lifted the ban and allowed gold to circulate freely, as it has done since.

In the 1970’s, President Richard M. Nixon’s administration declared the ‘War on Drugs’ to eliminate all illicit drugs from private ownership and usage. Today, millions of people are in prisons and jails, not because they are criminals, but because they possessed and/or used certain items which the government had disallowed. Like alcohol and gold in the early part of the century, however, illegal drugs did not go out of existence. They simply went underground and disappeared from public view. Currently, marijuana is legal in some form or another in a majority of states throughout the country and will eventually be legal everywhere, probably regulated like alcohol is.

So it will be for guns if private ownership is outlawed, prohibited, or regulated in an extreme manner. Guns, like alcohol, gold and drugs, will not simply disappear from society, instead, they will be driven out of sight. People who own them will be vilified, prosecuted, jailed, and fined, perhaps even killed, not because they used those guns against others violently, but because they possessed an item the government decided they shouldn’t have. If gun control is ever seriously legislated, scores of millions of Americans will be forced to choose between giving up what they consider to be their rightfully owned property or run the risk of heavy-handed punishment, up to and including the loss of their lives and freedom.

Government can regulate any consumer item out of the visible, public market, but it cannot destroy the demand for it. There always will be a market for alcohol, gold, drugs, guns, and many other items, which people consider valuable. The demand for such items is private and individual and can only be eliminated by private, individual choice. It cannot be extirpated from society by collective will or force, but may only be suppressed for an indefinite period of time, during which the relevant demand will be met–illegally, undercover, and quite often, violently.