“It is harder in America to buy two packs of Sudafed than 10 assault rifles,” comedian D.L. Hughley said on his radio show Monday, the day after a gunman opened fire on a concert crowd in Las Vegas.
At least 58 people were killed and nearly 500 injured on Sunday when Stephen Paddock, 64, shot into the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Authorities found 23 weapons in Paddock’s hotel room, including multiple rifles, some with scopes on them.
“Why would we feel comfortable giving one man that kind of power on the American streets?” Hughley asked.
The comparison to Sudafed is not a new one and has gained traction after mass shootings, often through memes, tweets and the occasional celebrity.
“There has to be some way to make it harder to build up an arsenal,” talk show host Stephen Colbert said after the San Bernardino, California, shootings, in which 14 people were killed in December 2015. “The San Bernardino shooters had 6,000 rounds of ammunition. Why is it so easy to buy bullets when I have to show three forms of ID to buy Sudafed?”
So how do regulations around the cold medicine and guns compare?
How pseudoephedrine is regulated
Sudafed is regulated because pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in some forms of the medication, can be used to create the street drug methamphetamine, or crystal meth.
The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 requires that a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, be used to purchase anything containing pseudoephedrine, which is kept behind the counter in stores. Records of purchase must be kept for at least two years.
Moreover, the federal act sets daily and monthly limits on how much of the active drug a person can buy. Without a prescription, you can buy up to 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine, or PSE, in a single day, equivalent to about 36 maximum-strength pills. You can buy up to 9 grams in a 30-day period.
The most common way of keeping track of these purchases is the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx, which is used by 35 states, including Nevada. Last year, the system blocked the sale of over 1.4 million boxes of PSE-containing medicine, which amounted to nearly 3.7 million grams of PSE, according to the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.
Some states have stricter laws that bar people from buying PSE-containing medicine if they’ve been convicted of certain drug-related crimes.
How guns are regulated
When it comes to firearms and ammunition, there is no federal limit to how much you can buy, nor is there a national database of purchases.
A handful of state laws, on the other hand, put restrictions on how many guns you can buy at once. In California, for example, you can’t apply to purchase a handgun more than once in a 30-day period. Nevada has no such restrictions.
In Nevada, it’s also legal to own assault weapons and large-capacity magazines for ammunition.
Authorities say Paddock had accumulated guns for over two decades. But he purchased 33 of his 47 known firearms, many of which were rifles, in the past year. The guns were purchased in Nevada, Utah, California and Texas, according to Jill Snyder, the special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ San Francisco field office.
Las Vegas police found 50 pounds of explosives and 1,600 rounds of ammunition in his car.
Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to issue background checks, which include a criminal history. But this does not necessarily apply to private sales.
Last year, Nevada voters narrowly passed a ballot measure requiring a background check for gun sales between private parties, but the state attorney general put it on hold, saying it wasn’t enforceable.
As to whether it’s easier to buy guns or cold medicine, that could depend on how much you want to buy, where you live, how fast you want it and whether you’ve been convicted of a crime.