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Guns & Drugs Don't Mix

Ogden shootout is another sign that America's War on Drugs is a war on itself


The “War on Drugs” has entered a new phase in Utah, pitting hometown, combattrained young men against each other in a backyard battle. Officer Jared Francom, 30, was killed Jan. 4 while attempting to serve a search warrant at an Ogden pot-grower’s house. Five other officers of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were wounded in the shootout.

Matthew Stewart, 37, is charged with aggravated murder, seven counts of attempted aggravated murder, and production of a controlled substance in a drug-free zone (his house is across the street from a church).

Stewart isn’t an illegal alien or a gang member, and he claims he isn’t a dealer. He’s a military veteran whose father has told the media he suffers from posttraumatic stress syndrome. He was, according to his father’s claims, “selfmedicating” with homegrown pot. He was also reportedly willing to die for his right to get high. “I’ll go out in a blaze of glory and shoot to kill,” he boasted to a friend last summer, according to the police affidavit about the shootout.

Stewart reportedly had a hiding place ready in his house where he raked incoming officers with fire from his 9mm Berretta. He continued shooting as officers attempted to drag away the wounded, and he had a strategic withdrawal plan, climbing out a window and retreating to the shed in the back yard. Stewart was wounded four times and, until this week, was recuperating in the hospital along with the five officers he wounded in addition to Francom. Stewart was booked into Weber County Jail on Monday to await trial.

The last time an officer was killed in the line of duty in Ogden was 1963, so it’s been a wake-up call for residents. Hundreds attended a hastily organized candlelight vigil. A demolition derby was held to raise funds for the wounded officers, and local businesses are donating percentages of proceeds from special events.

The symbolic importance of the gunfight was immediately seized upon by Gov. Gary Herbert. Flags were ordered to fly at half-mast and, escorted by a phalanx of state troopers on motorcycles, Herbert came to town for Francom’s funeral held at Weber State University’s Dee Events Center. More than 4,000 people were in attendance, including sheriff and police departments from across Utah.

Buses full of Boy Scout troops set out thousands of American flags along the procession route. An estimated 400 to 500 police vehicles were part of the funeral procession. Francom was buried with full honors including a 21-gun salute and aircraft flyover.

Three days after the busted bust, the Utah Gun Collectors Association held its tri-annual gun show at the Weber County Fairgrounds. More than 200 exhibitors were set up to display and sell tens of thousands of guns.

According to a 2007 survey, American citizens own 270,000,000 guns. With 88.8 guns per hundred citizens, we lead the rest of the world by a long way, yet we keep buying more. 2011 was a record year for gun sales. According to FBI statistics, 1,534,414 names were submitted for gunpurchase background checks, a third of that total occurring in the week before Christmas.

In addition to providing a sense of “security,” guns have become status symbols. Concealed-carry permits have made custom holsters and blinged-out purses into fashion accessories. Can it be that all these people are arming themselves against terrorists or the threat of foreign invasion? It seems more likely that what they’re really afraid of is each other.

Ever since Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, there has been a steady growth in percentage of incarcerated Americans—another category in which America leads the world. In 1994, a million citizens were arrested for drug offenses, a quarter of them for possession of marijuana. By 2008, the number was up to 1.5 million. In 2010, it is estimated that the federal government spent $15 billion on the War on Drugs. You have to wonder if maybe it’s time to declare victory and bring home the troops.

Marijuana is one of nature’s bounties, its beneficial qualities acknowledged by many in the health-care industry. How did a common weed become a “controlled substance?” How did things get so twisted that a veteran wanting only to chill out ends up in a gun battle defending his turf?

The shootout in Ogden is symptomatic of a conflict between converging trends: the rise in gun ownership and the increasing acceptance of medical marijuana.

With civil liberties in conflict, something has to give. You have the right to bear arms, and you may establish the right to self-medicate, but you can’t have both at the same time.

Dude, if you’re smoking pot, lay down your arms. Guns and drugs don’t mix. Don’t operate heavy machinery, either, when you’re high. Stay away from staple guns. Don’t drive on the freeway in rushhour traffic. Most of all, don’t insist on your right to self-medicate when you’re packing heat.

Someday, the War on Drugs will be over and Americans will look back on our era as Prohibition II, an age of repression just as ineffective and counter-productive as the original Prohibition. With so many casualties on both sides, it seems that America’s War on Drugs is a war on itself.

Bob Sawatzki is an Ogden resident who works at the library to support his writing habit.