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Pyle: Guns, drugs and American stupidity

Published April 19, 2013 5:46 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

America in general, and Utah in particular, will never have the kind of firearms regulations that civilized societies take for granted because of our not totally unreasonable fear that such rules would be enforced by the West Valley City Police Department's narcotics squad.

That squad was disbanded not long ago, and nine of its members have since been placed on paid administrative leave, due to concerns that its members had gone rogue. And not in a way that would make them Bruce Willis "cops who play by their own set of rules" movie heroes.

The FBI, the district attorney and, belatedly, the city itself are looking into allegations of all kinds of sloppiness and bad practices, including the still unexplained killing of an unarmed drug user — not drug dealer — by two members of that unit.

Notice it's seldom, if ever, homicide, robbery or patrol details that get caught up in this kind of corruption. In West Valley City, it was the narcs. In Salt Lake City, the chief eliminated the vice squad in the wake of reports that some of its officers had been overly tempted by the very acts of vice they were supposed to be arresting people for.

Salt Lake Chief Chris Burbank also made the enlightened decision to treat more of those people who sell their bodies as victims, not perps, and start exploring ways to help them out of that life, rather than give them the kind of criminal record that can make going straight even more difficult.

There's something about applying police tactics to public health problems that makes the officers involved in those misbegotten efforts turn, if not evil or corrupt, then so frustrated that they start viewing the world in the same way as the denizens of the very underworld they were trying to police.

This screws up life in America in two very important ways.

1) We persist in our addiction to the anti-drug drug, corrupting police officers, filling prisons, creating insane laws that allow police to seize cash, cars and other things alleged to have been gained from drug dealings even when, as is now the case in West Valley City, charges were dropped or convictions later reversed. Again, it is only the drug war (and, at the national level, the war on terror) that tolerates such insane and unconstitutional tactics. Real law enforcement, the kind that goes after thieves and murderers and child molesters, seldom seems to fall into those traps.

2) When someone points out that, in addition to over-regulating drugs and sex, we under-regulate firearms, those voices are shouted down by Second Amendment fanatics whose imaginings of SWAT teams breaking down doors to get to your kid's .22 rifle resonate because we live in a nation that uses SWAT teams to break down doors to get to some poor sod's marijuana plants.

Drugs and guns are different in many ways. Drugs aren't listed as a constitutional right. Drugs usually only damage their user (except when the illegal nature of the trade turns violent), while guns (except in cases of suicide) are supposed to damage everyone but the user.

But drugs and guns are alike in one very important aspect: Both are valued out of all reasonable proportion by far too many stupid people because having them makes them feel better.

And the percentage of the population that suffers from those similar kinds of stupidity is large enough, and devoted enough, that attempts to stamp out either can only come to grief.

Drugs and guns are public health issues. They are like diabetes and AIDS, often manageable but seldom curable.

Drugs and guns should be subject to adults-only licensing and regulation — like the background check bill that our Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Orrin Hatch cravenly helped to kill last week. We should do this not because guns and drugs are good — they aren't — but because both are so ingrained in our society that pretending to ban either is a fool's errand.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, tries to channel his stupidity into excessive tweeting. Follow him on Twitter @debatestate, or on Facebook at facebook.com/stateofthedebate.