In the War on Guns, Let's Not Repeat History

President Obama's gun legislation could have unintended negative effects, writes Inimai M. Chettiar in the Nation, and lawmakers have to be aware of the power they wield.

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President Obama's gun-control legislation could have unintended negative effects, writes Inimai M. Chettiar in the Nation. Lawmakers have to be aware of the power they wield and learn from past missteps.

The career of Vice President Biden, who was charged to lead the president's gun control initiative—is a useful example of the pitfalls of liberal good intentions. In the midst of the national panic over the crack wave of the 1980s, he co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Actwhich, notoriously, created punishments for crack cocaine 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine. (As the Heritage Foundation notes, Biden pushed for this ratio despite a saner view from, of all places, the Reagan administration.) The disproportionate racial impact is well known, and it would take decades before the Obama administration, with the Fair Sentencing Act, addressed the disparity.

Over time, heated fear has given way to cold facts and the country has had to face a hard truth. We have spent $1 trillion dollars to incarcerate more of our people than any other country, yet we are no closer to solving our drug problem. These laws did not reduce drug abuse or drug trafficking, and they engrained racial inequality into the justice system. The crack “epidemic” is long gone, but the war on drugs wages on in the lives of millions of incarcerated young African-American men.

The United States fell on its face in its war on drugs because it let an animalistic reaction to fear take over policymaking. It abandoned facts and science. Though Newtown has traumatized us all, we should think through the consequences of proposals before acting. Gun laws passed today to stop tomorrow's suburban school shooter may well end up incarcerating more generations of young inner-city black men.

Read Inimai M. Chettiar's entire piece at the Nation.

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