Guns and drugs

Gun-related and drug-related deaths are on the rise in America. The opioid crisis has reached the level of public-health epidemic, while gun-safety has been a hotly-contested topic this year, given the rise of mass shootings in public places such as schools and churches, as well as the overall increase of firearm fatalities in the past year. West Virginia is a case study for these issues. The state leads the nation in drug-related deaths, and is in the top 15 states for gun-related deaths in 2017. West Virginia is a perfect example of how law-makers are dealing with these problems.

West Virginia legislators sent a bill to Governor Justice to sign into law which addresses the opioid epidemic. Senate bill 273 regulates the number of opioid pills that may be prescribed. Initial opioid prescriptions are limited to a seven-day supply for short-term pain, and emergency rooms and urgent care facilities are limited to four-day supply prescriptions. Dentists and optometrists are restricted to prescribing a three-day supply of pain pills. These new guidelines are a valid attempt at controlling the horrible epidemic that affects West Virginians on a daily basis, causing lives to be ruined and families to be torn apart. Although the bill does not address the fact that illegal drugs, such as fentanyl and heroin, are the leading causes of overdoses, it represents common sense attempts to address the crisis of drug-related deaths in West Virginia.

West Virginia legislators also introduced three new bills that address changes to gun laws in the state. These bills will allow gun-owners to carry their weapons on college and university campuses, as well as transport, carry and store their weapons in their vehicles in publicly accessible areas. Proposed legislation will also reduce fees for conceal carry permits from $75 to $25. West Virginia already has lax gun regulations. The only legislation related to firearms in West Virginia are pro-gun bills. Yet, West Virginia has experienced a 15 percent increase in firearm deaths since the 2016 passage of a law that allows conceal carry without a permit. Loosening gun regulations seems to be a trend nationwide, as law-makers continue to ignore the epidemic of gun violence. Lax guns laws lead to higher rates of death by firearms.

Stricter laws may reduce drug-related deaths. Prescription-drug regulations are real efforts by law-makers to protect the public from the harmful effects of drugs like oxycodone that have destroyed entire towns in West Virginia. The state government can be commended for trying to control this devastating problem, despite the fact that national efforts have fallen flat. The White House has done little since declaring the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. In the 2018 budget, the president recommended cutting the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent. He still has not named anyone to head the Drug Enforcement Agency. He recently announced desires to adopt a harsh, mandatory death sentence for drug-dealers. The current plan to address the national crisis is a “war on drugs”-type campaign led by Kellyanne Conway.

Tightening drug laws to combat a critical drug problem while loosening gun laws when gun violence is on the rise leads to a question of what can be accomplished by regulations to protect America’s citizens. If a crackdown on the number of prescription pills can confront the drug problem, isn’t it possible that reducing the amount of ammunition that can be purchased and limiting the number of available assault-type weapons could tackle the problem of escalating gun deaths? If increasing regulations on drugs can be a successful effort in fighting the destructive opioid epidemic, does it not stand to reason that sensible gun regulations will minimize gun fatalities?  Isn’t it worth a shot?


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