The role of government should only be to serve and protect the interests of the people it represents as well as those of the global community. The moment a government takes any action which violates the freedom or welfare of the people without protecting them in some way, the authority of said government becomes illegitimate. This is often the case when the government places bans on certain goods and substances.
Certainly the U.S. government has reason to place bans on certain items. There is simply no reason an American civilian would need an assault weapon. Additionally, the legality of such weapons poses a threat to the safety of the general public. The fact that assault weapons meet these two criteria would make an outright ban on them justifiable. A reasonable argument could be made that, if the civilian populace does not have a right to these weapons, agents of the military and law enforcement shouldn’t either. Despite the validity of this argument, a ban affecting only the civilian populace remains the most reasonable short-term solution.
In addition to dangerous weaponry, there is another category of items which the government has a right to control in the interest of protecting its people. This group includes those products which, although not a direct physical threat to the public, represent a danger to the environment and, therefore, a long term threat to the people.
For instance, DDT was commonly used as a pesticide until it was discovered that the chemical was devastating the bird population and may have caused cancer and birth defects, among other things, in humans. Chlorofluorocarbon [CFC’s] are a less direct example of rightful government control. Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, use of these inefficient, ozone-depleting chemicals is being scaled down. In these and similar instances, government control is necessary to protect the public.
There are, however, a great many cases where the U.S. government has extended its influence beyond a justifiable one. Drug control is probably the most discussed facet of this debate. Many contend that it is not the place of the government to ban marijuana. More generally, there is no argument strong enough to justify the government’s ban on any drug. While drug usage undeniably is harmful to the user, it is not inherently harmful to anyone else. Therefore, measures could be taken to combat the negative behavior which may accompany drug use, similar to the laws in place to prevent drunk driving.
Why then are there bans on so many drugs? Like so many other questions, the answer boils down to money. Take the case of marijuana and tobacco, for instance. Compared to the adverse health effects related to tobacco usage, those associated with recreational marijuana usage are a joke. And yet the more dangerous product is readily available. The reason is simple: marijuana, unlike tobacco, can be grown in a wide range of climates and environments. As such, its legalization would not represent a possible profit to any company.
A similar situation affects the legality of other drugs. Heroin, cocaine and other drugs are strictly forbidden. At the same time, one can rarely make it through a single commercial break without being berated by ads for commercial drugs whose side effects eliminate any argument for their relative safety. Moreover, the illegality of "hard drugs," like cocaine and heroin, is largely the cause of the violent crime for which drugs are condemned.
Government bans are undeniably an infringement on the freedom of the individual. However, the human condition dictates that universal freedom is a threat to the welfare of the general populace. Therefore, a government which seeks to protect its people must sometimes infringe on the freedom of the few in order to protect the many. These infringements, however, can only be justified if they actually exist to protect the people, rather than merely protecting profit.