Today, President Obama signed into law Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ final (for now?) piece of sponsored legislation. The new law, entitled the Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act, focuses on strengthening the penalties associated with illegally smuggling drugs into the country by amending the Tariff Act of 1930 to include the relatively unique air vehicle.
Notwithstanding my opinions regarding the untenable nature of the so-called “War on Drugs,” this piece of legislation is refreshing in the mechanics of its approach, at least. The title of the act is a bit absurd given that laws do not really prevent much criminal behavior in reality but at least in this case the legislation focuses on the punishment of criminals for the commission of illegal act(s) (upon conviction, of course), rather than on futile attempts to prevent crime by limiting or outright banning access to the implements of the crime.
How strikingly different this legislation appears when compared to most anti-gun messages, where the firearms themselves often garner more vitriolic attention than the people who illegally use them – as if the things are somehow responsible for their deviant behavior. In order to prevent the violence typically associated with drug-related activity, for example, many seek to ban the guns, or make them nearly impossible for the law-abiding citizen to legally obtain, or vilify them to such a degree via misinformation that their proponents are socially marginalized by their very own government.
Imagine for a moment just how silly a federal law would seem to the average citizen if a particular type of aircraft were banned from peaceful civilian use simply because it was also favored by drug smugglers to traffic their wares. Or imagine the next logical step along this train of thought, where basic commuter vehicles are banned simply because drug smugglers tend to use them as well. Undoubtedly computers and the internet have become key elements of drug-related criminal enterprises – perhaps even more crucial than firearms in many ways – so it then follows that both should also be vilified according to this misguided approach.
If only we could take a step back, remove the emotions from the debate, and make rational, logical decisions regarding individual rights, crime, and how they relate to each other, we might one day be able to reinvigorate a credible political process that establishes respectable laws, respects individual rights and freedoms, and does not function simply as a mechanism of leverage for power to be applied by one group or individual at the illegitimate expense of another.