AP Photo/Steve Helber

Virginia’s violent crime and murder rates are some of the lowest they’ve been in the past sixty years, but gun control is still going to be at the top of the legislative agenda when lawmakers convene the 2020 session in a few weeks with a new House and Senate controlled by Democrats for the first time in 26 years. Meanwhile, while the state’s violent crime is dropping, drug overdose deaths are skyrocketing, and it’s not just opioid related deaths. Meth is making a huge comeback, and its resurgence offers a cautionary tale for those new legislators who believe we can ban our way to safety when it comes to guns.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch spoke to Katherine Hayek with the DEA, who noted that unlike the first wave of meth overdose deaths in the United States back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, this meth is coming over the border from Mexico, and not being cooked up in a trailer or motel room by local dealers.

The meth from Mexico is cheap and of high quality.

“You bring that on to the streets and you have all your drug dealers offering meth” instead of opioids, Hayek said.

But she said fentanyl is now sometimes being mixed into meth and cocaine.

“It gives it an extra kick. It makes it feel more potent,” Hayek said.

“It seems almost like fear mongering … but this is what we’re seeing out there,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody knows the dangers in this.”

The number of meth-related overdose deaths in Virginia has jumped from a single death in 2010 to an estimated 150 in 2019. In large part, this is because of the well-intended desire to make it harder for local meth-heads to cook up their drug of choice, which in turn resulted in the Mexican drug cartels taking over production of virtually all of the meth used in the United States today.

You’ve probably heard some variation on the argument of “It’s easier to buy a gun than it is to buy cold medicine, right? It’s not true, but the argument is generally you have to show ID and sign your name to buy products with pseudoephedrine in them, so why not require universal background checks for all gun purchases? It’s a nonsensical argument, not only because of the apples to oranges comparison, but because as it turns out, those laws restricting access to pseudoephedrine have made things a lot worse.

The idea was simple: you need pseudoephedrine to make meth, so by cutting back the ability to acquire the ingredients, you could cut back on the manufacture of meth. It worked, for the most part. Homegrown meth labs became harder to find, and for a while the stories about meth labs blowing up homes or motel rooms disappeared from the news.

Unfortunately, the demand for meth remained high, and the Mexican drug cartels quickly realized they could supply a drug that, up to that point, hadn’t been among their traditional offerings. It was a new revenue stream for the cartels, and before long the United States had more meth than ever before. Even better for the buyers, if not for the rest of us, the drug was now cheaper and stronger than it had been when it was being hand-crafted in the local budget motel or single-wide on a quiet country road.

That’s not to say the homegrown stuff has disappeared completely. Even with the restrictions on the high-test cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, there are still tweakers and dealers blowing up buildings in their attempts to manufacture meth.

The cartels, meanwhile, have continued their expansion into other drugs, and are now the major supplier of both heroin and its stronger cousins like fentanyl and carfentanil, which in Virginia are an even worse scourge than the skyrocketing meth problem. In all of 2018, there were 391 homicides in the state and 127 meth overdose deaths. The number of opioid-related deaths, on the other hand, was more than double the number of homicides and meth OD’s combined, at 1,280 lives lost.

In a few weeks, these anti-gun Virginia lawmakers, along with anti-gun governor Ralph Northam, are going to ignore the increasing number of drug overdose deaths in order to pass new gun control laws in a state where crime is falling. In doing so, they’re going to ignore the lesson to be learned from cracking down on cold medicine in the name of public safety; the best of intentions can lead to the worst results.

We’re still living and dying with the consequences of a simple, yet poor decision about cold medicine. We’re still dealing with three times the number of people dying from a banned drug than from a firearm, whether it was possessed legally or not. When we try to ban our way to safety, it has a tendency of making things worse. It’s a lesson Virginia lawmakers should take to heart, and if they really care about the health of the Commonwealth, they should tackle the state’s epidemic of overdose deaths before making any moves towards the state’s gun laws.