The New York Times' conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, has written a column about New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik's column on gun control likening gun violence to an epidemic for which there is a antidote, effective gun control, since in countries with such gun control there is a fraction of the gun killings we experience in the U.S.

Douthat's piece in the Times is called "Carrie Nation at the New Yorker," Nation being the famous temperance saloon-buster who helped lead the way to the national prohibition of alcohol in the United States that prevailed from 1920 to 1933.  More people die alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. than gun-related deaths, Douthat points out, so one could as easily demand the elimination of alcohol as of guns.

Of course, to begin with, Gopnik is not calling for banning guns, but for effective gun controls.  In fact, there are quite a large number of controls in place for alcohol -- drinking age, hours and places at which it can be sold and consumed, banning of (or limits on) drinking by many types of workers (e.g., transportation) or by people operating machinery, including especially driving.  The equivalent call might be for appropriate limits on gun ownership, types of weaponry, and places where guns may be carried and used.

But, beyond that, we can ask another question: how do these activities enhance life?  Gun owners feel safer, perhaps, and sportsmen gun owners and hunters enjoy those activities.  On the other hand, a much larger number of Americans (about half of adults) find some grace, or solace, or pleasure in drinking alcohol.

But, if it is killing them in droves, should they be prevented from drinking (other than when driving, using heavy machinery, pregnant, etc.)?  Well, it turns out that moderate drinkers live longer than abstainers.  This is true even when people who quit drinking because of alcoholism are eliminated from the analysis.  It is true even when social class, education, and other factors are controlled for -- which is necessary, since a higher percentage of better-off and better-educated people drink, so that it is unfair to count their better health as being due to alcohol.  In one study among Harvard health professionals, even men who exercised, had healthy diets, didn't smoke and were of normal weight who drank moderately had fewer heart attacks than those with the same traits who abstained.

So, if Douthat wants to liken guns and alcohol in terms of their readiness to be banned, or futher controlled, he should, perhaps, take into account the other side of the ledger as well, the potential benefits of each.

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