Why It Should Be Just As Hard To Get A Gun As It Is To Get Cold Medicine

In the current debate about gun violence, the weapon manufacturers’ lobby has pushed the myth that the federal government has no role to play in stemming the tide of gun violence. In reality, it is the federal government’s responsibility to enact common-sense measures to protect its citizens. In fact, such measures have already been established for items as seemingly innocuous as cold medicine — but similar measures to regulate guns have faced a politicized battle, funded and led by the gun manufacturing lobby with little regard for the safety of civilians.

In 2006, then President George W. Bush signed the Combat Meth Act as part of the Patriot Act. The purpose of this legislation is to track and prevent potential drug manufacturers from obtaining pseudoephedrine, a common treatment of nasal congestion, but also a key ingredient for manufacturing meth. The act contains three key provisions:

1. A person is limited in how much pseudoephedrine he or she can purchase per month.

2. Retailers must keep personal information about these customers for at least two years after the purchase of these medicines.

3. Information for the purchase logbook must be verified against the photo ID, and recorded along with the amount of medication purchased.

While every American adult, who suffers an average of 2 to 4 colds per year, must strictly obey these regulations to receive treatment for his or her cold symptoms, he or she is not obliged by the federal government to follow them in order to buy a gun:

1. Under federal law, it’s prohibited to buy more than nine grams of pseudoephedrine in one month, but there is no limit on how many firearms an individual can purchase for the same time period. State laws regarding the number of firearm purchases are becoming harder to find. Currently, only three states and the District of Columbia limit the number of sales per month. In 2002, Virginia made headlines when it repealed its one-handgun-a-month law.

2. Information about the purchaser of a decongestant must be recorded for a minimum of two years, but thanks to the Tiahrt Amendments (provisions added to federal spending bills by former U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) that weaken the federal government’s ability to track and pursue criminals who buy and sell illegal guns) the Justice Department must destroy the record of a gun buyer whose background check was approved within 24 hours.

3. Cold medicine retailers must log information about the purchaser and amount of pseudoephedrine purchased, but not all states require gun retailers to do the same. Despite the tragic massacre at Virginia Tech, the Commonwealth does not require gun retailers to submit records of their sales and forces them to destroy all prior records they have. Of course, the purpose of cold medicine purchaser information is to update the national database of pseudoephedrine users for law enforcement, but no such national database exists to help track gun purchases.

So what does this tell us about the government’s role in preventing gun violence?

The federal government has a moral responsibility to address potentially dangerous items, and when they fail to live up to that responsibility, our communities suffer negative consequences. When instances of meth abuse were on the rise, the federal government took necessary steps to curb a threat to public safety. As the death toll of gun massacres also rises, the government — empowered by the Heller decision — has a similar duty to support sensible gun violence prevention measures.


In the same way that the government requires cold medicine sellers to know the purchasing history of pseudoephedrine buyers, the government could require that all gun sellers run background checks to know the criminal and mental health history of firearms purchasers. As it stands now, 40 percent of gun transactions are completed through private, unlicensed gun dealers who are not required by law to run a background check. But if we accept that the federal government places a limit on the amount of cold medicine we buy per month to prevent meth manufacturing, can’t we easily understand a limit on the number of bullets in a magazine to prevent an increasing number of massacres?

While the Combat Meth Act of 2005 was highly effective immediately following implementation, over time the initial impact of the law wore off. The Obama administration, recognizing that legislation should keep pace with criminals as they find loopholes in the law, is continuing Bush’s effort against meth abuse. And if these evolving regulations on pseudoephedrine can start to sweep meth off our rural community roads, it stands to reason that common-sense gun violence prevention measures could help stem the tide bloodshed in our houses of worship, schools, movie theaters, and urban community streets.