Monday, February 23, 2015

"In a free society — that is, one without drug laws — the likelihood is that 25-year-old drug addict Terry Gillenwater would be alive today."

Gun Control, Death, and the Drug War
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Twenty-five year old Terry Gillenwater will not be holding up any more pharmacies. That’s because he was shot dead while committing an armed robbery at the Good Family Pharmacy in Pinch, West Virginia.

Gillenwater entered the pharmacy wearing a mask, pulled out a gun, and aimed it at the people behind the counter. What he didn’t know was one of those people, pharmacist Don Radcliff, had a concealed-carry permit and was armed. Radcliff immediately took out his pistol, aimed it at Gillenwater, and fired, hitting him three times and killing him. The episode was caught on videotape.

The occurrence goes to the heart of the gun-control debate. Robbers, murderers, rapists, and other violent people don’t comply with gun-control laws. Peaceful, law-abiding people do because they don’t want to be saddled with a felony conviction. So, all that gun-control laws do is disarm the peaceful, law-abiding people, making them sitting ducks for the violent ones — the ones who don’t give a hoot about gun-control laws.

Not surprisingly, the state is not going to press charges. Radcliff had a concealed-carry permit and was acting in self-defense and defense of innocent third parties. His killing of Gillenwater was entirely justified under the law.

However, there is a deeper meaning to all this, one that the mainstream press isn’t focusing on — that role that the war on drugs played in this killing.

After all, despite the fact that Radcliff was within his rights to kill Gillenwater, no one should celebrate whenever a person’s life is snuffed out, especially when the person killed is only 25 years old. Clearly Radcliff himself isn’t celebrating. According to an article on, after Gillenwater was shot, Radcliff helped administer first aid to him and repeatedly said to him, “Why did you make me to do this? I didn’t mean to do this.” According to one account, Radcliff was somber the next day and was turning to the Bible for emotional support.

So, why was Gillenwater robbing a pharmacy? After all, a pharmacy isn’t exactly a place where one would expect to find a load of cash.

As it turns out, Gillenwater was a drug addict. According to an article on, he had pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute OxyContin and the plea was deferred on condition he enter a drug rehab program. The county prosecutor, Chuck Miller, told the press that Gillenwater “had done some searches on his iPhone with respect to drugs in the pharmacy.”

When was the last time you heard of someone walking into a liquor store with the intent of robbing the store of liquor? Sure, a robber might risk doing a hold-up for cash but he’s not going to do it for liquor. Why is that? Because liquor is legal and, therefore, easy to acquire and reasonably priced.

Not so with drugs. Illicit drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, are exorbitantly priced because of their illegality. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. Constrict the supply through by making it illegal, and the price soars. And the harsher the state enforce the drug laws, the higher the price goes.

What does that mean for cocaine and heroin addicts? It means that unless they have enormous sums of money, which is oftentimes not the case, they either have to give up their habits, which is extremely hard to do, or they go out and rob, steal from, or mug people to get the money to pay the enormous black-market prices of the drugs. That’s why robberies, burglaries, muggings, and thefts have accompanied the war on drugs.

It’s no different in principle with laws that prohibit the distribution of drugs by pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription. While some drug addicts can get a handle on their addiction, others are going to do whatever is necessary to satisfy their habit, which appears to be the case with Gillenwater. While one never knows what would have happened had Radcliff not shot him, my hunch is that Gillenwater had no intention of shooting anyone. My hunch is that as soon as he got his Oxycontin, he would have walked out of that pharmacy without shooting anyone.

Of course, in a genuine free market — one in which there is no government involvement — a pharmacy might well establish its own policy restricting its distribution of drugs only to people who have a prescription from a doctor. But it’s also possible that there will be pharmacies that distribute them to any adult who wishes to buy them.

Why not leave the possession, use, and distribution of drugs to freedom and the free market? Why not let adults be adults? In a genuinely free society, Terry Gillenwater would have been able to walk into any pharmacy that freely sold Oxycontin and just purchase it peacefully, like anything else. There would no need for drug addicts to hold up pharmacists for drugs any more than there is a need for alcoholics to hold up liquor stores for liquor. In a free society — that is, one without drug laws — the likelihood is that 25-year-old drug addict Terry Gillenwater would be alive today.


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