Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guns

Like most of you, I've been thinking about guns for the last few days. As economists, what do we have to say about gun control? Though this article is not about the economics of the problem, it has something to say about the practicalities of regulation. Regulating guns through the U.S. Consumer and Product Safety Commission is a start, and using some of the strategies that were used against tobacco is another useful step.

What's the problem here? People buy guns for three reasons: (i) they want to shoot animals with them; (ii) they want to shoot people with them; (iii) they want to threaten people with them. There are externalities. Gun manufacturers and retailers profit from the sale of guns. The people who buy the guns and use them seem to enjoy having them. But there are third parties who suffer. People shooting at animals can hit people. People who buy guns intending to protect themselves may shoot people who in fact intend no harm. People may temporarily feel compelled to harm others, and want an efficient instrument to do it with.

There are also information problems. It may be difficult to determine who is a hunter, who is temporarily not in their right mind, and who wants to put a loaded weapon in the bedside table.

What do economists know? We know something about information problems, and we know something about mitigating externalities. Let's think first about the information problems. Here, we know that we can make some headway by regulating the market so that it becomes segmented, with these different types of people self-selecting. This one is pretty obvious, and is a standard part of the conversation. Guns for hunting do not need to be automatic or semi-automatic, they do not need to have large magazines, and they do not have to be small. If hunting weapons do not have these properties, who would want to buy them for other purposes?

On the externality problem, we can be more inventive. A standard tool for dealing with externalities is the Pigouvian tax. Tax the source of the bad externality, and you get less of it. How big should the tax be? An unusual problem here is that the size of the externality is random - every gun is not going to injure or kill someone. There's also an inherent moral hazard problem, in that the size of the externality depends on the care taken by the gunowner. Did he or she properly train himself or herself? Did they store their weapon to decrease the chance of an accident?

What's the value of a life? I think when economists ask that question, lay people are offended. I'm thinking about it now, and I'm offended too. If someone offered me $5 million for my cat, let alone another human being, I wouldn't take it.

In any case, the Pigouvian tax we would need to correct the externality should be a large one, and it could generate a lot of revenue. If there are 300 million guns in the United States, and we impose a tax of $3600 per gun on the current stock, we would eliminate the federal government deficit. But $3600 is coming nowhere close to the potential damage that a single weapon could cause. A potential solution would be to have a gun-purchaser post collateral - several million dollars in assets - that could be confiscated in the event that the gun resulted in injury or loss of life. This has the added benefit of mitigating the moral hazard problem - the collateral is lost whether the damage is "accidental" or caused by, for example, someone who steals the gun.

Of course, once we start thinking about the size of the tax (or collateral) needed to correct the inefficiency that exists here, we'll probably come to the conclusion that it is more efficient just to ban particular weapons and ammunition at the point of manufacture. I think our legislators should take that as far as it goes.

Addendum: See this related piece by Louis Johnston.

96 comments:

  1. Gun nuts and murderers are forward-looking and are already stocking up on ammunition and weapons.

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    1. Let's say you love Pepsi. Pepsi tells you it's probably going out of business in a couple months. Would you not buy a bunch of Pepsi?

      Contrary to popular belief, we're not all murderers and nut jobs. Just so happens that the AR-15, for example, is a great weapon for home defense. Why not buy one now if you know you won't be able to get one soon?

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    2. I have yet to see a good argument for why an AR-15 is any better for defending the home than a hand gun.

      Sure you can rip through your walls like tissue paper, but I'd imagine a hand gun would be much easier to control in a confined space. Particularly, if you live in an urban setting where an AR-15 sends stray bullets into your neighbors homes or at innocent passers by.

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    3. I would think a shot gun would work better than either a handgun or AR-15 for this purpose, if that is what you want it for.

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  2. Huh... well I'm alive today because I had a gun and the attacker had a knife. Where's the price of saved lives in your story?

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    1. It's awfully hard to find statistics on crimes that didn't happen because someone didn't know if the target was packing heat. But you only have one paragraph on the value of lives saved. For me, that seems the crux of the issue. How might one estimate that? Seems well nigh impossible.

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    2. That's in there. Maybe sometime in the future your loaded gun will go off and shoot you in the foot. Maybe you'll see someone you think is a bad guy, shoot him, and, surprise, it's not a bad guy. Maybe some kid will pick up your loaded gun in the house and shoot someone with it. Maybe someone will steal your gun and rob a convenience store with it.

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    3. " How might one estimate that? Seems well nigh impossible."

      No it's not. Data on crime and deaths is available. Presumably there is also data on gun ownership. We can write down a model of behavior, including the crime, and whatever lifesaving and lifetaking is going on. But I don't think we have to do the study. It seems glaringly obvious that, to be useful, a gun has to be loaded and available. As such, the gun is far more likely to cause an accidental death than to be "saving" any lives.

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    4. Regarding the fatal accidents, firearm accidents appear to be less than 1% of fatal accidents. The latest data is 2007 [http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp#[120]] from the CDC.

      In 1994, the rate at which a gun is used to scare off a home invader was 27 times higher than the number of gun-related accidents resulting either in death or an emergency room visit.

      I'm not finding much more up-to-date data than that.


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    5. Prof J, the study they cite is refuted in other academic work, such as this: http://home.uchicago.edu/~ludwigj/papers/JPAM_Cook_Ludwig_Hemenway_2007.pdf

      The core problem is that surveys are unreliable (especially at the 0.5% response level) and that the data is not plausible on its face (the number of defensive uses of guns would vastly exceed the total number of gunshot wounds seen in hospitals from any cause).

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    6. That paper seems to focus on a 2.5 million 'defensive uses.' The CDC survey has 498,000 'defensive uses.' The values in the paper you cite seem to conflict with the reports from the CDC. I don't see anywhere where the authors reconcile this issue.

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    7. Stephen, modern guns don't randomly "go off" and shoot someone. You have to pull the trigger for that to happen.

      Also, guns should always be stored inaccessible to children, unless of course you're a good parent, in which case you can teach your kid to not play with the gun the same way you can teach him not to get into a van with a stranger.

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    8. "You have to pull the trigger for that to happen."

      Yes, I understand that.

      "...guns should always be stored inaccessible to children..."

      So for a handgun that the owner intends to use to "protect" his/her family, how can the thing then be useful for protection against bad guys and be stored so it is inaccessible?

      "...you can teach your kid to not play with the gun..."

      Do you have kids? We teach them all kinds of things. Look before you cross the street. Don't put your hand on the stove. Don't drink at the prom and then drive a car. But kids, taught by well-intentioned, good, parents, are run over by cars, burned, and killed in car accidents because they are drunk.

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  3. It seems glaringly obvious that, to be useful, a gun has to be loaded and available. As such, the gun is far more likely to cause an accidental death than to be "saving" any lives.

    It seems glaringly obvious that the higher the probability that a potential crime breaker thinks his victim (person, house, business) has a gun, the more likely he will be seriously or fatally wounded. And I should think that would have a non-trivial deterrent effect.

    Being loaded and available is a small part of what makes guns useful. It's the perception about the rate of ownership by potential criminals that really produces the positive effect.

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    1. So you think we should issue everyone with a handgun? Subsidize gun ownership?

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    2. Issue everyone? Of course not. As you point out, there are still negative effects. My point was that it's not inconceivable, that for certain ranges, gun ownership rates can produce net positive benefits. But again, I certainly don't think welfare is a monotonically increasing function of ownership.

      Here's a rough example of a simple model. There are two types of agents: citizens and criminals. Citizens value consumption and guns. Criminals also value consumption and guns. Both live multiple periods but only with some probability.

      The difference between citizens and criminals is that each period criminals have the additional choice of stealing from citizens.

      The way guns would enter at the aggregate level could be in multiple places. The obvious places would be in the probability of living/and or the probability of a successful crime. For example, we could assume that the probability of making it to the next period for a criminal is decreasing in the aggregate number of *citizens'* guns. Alternatively/additionally, we could assume that the probability of a citizen making it to the next period is decreasing in the aggregate number of citizens guns.

      I imagine some of the game theoretic public goods models are already equipped to easily model this.

      The point is that there will be competing private and external effects of gun ownership rates. So it is conceivable that the socially optimal rate of ownership could be more or less than the privately desired rate of ownership. I don't think it's outrageous to think that in some areas subsidizing ownership would be the optimal thing to do...

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    3. Two points:

      1. I have thought a bit about this. Muggings (individuals on the street), and holdups (places of business) are primarily to take cash. With the decline in the use of cash as a means of payment, there is now little to be gained from muggings or holdups. I'm sure a bank holdup nets a lot less than in 1970, for example. Most of the cash is in the ATM. I have not seen the statistics on these things, but my guess is that these types of crime are well down in number. Thus, there's not much to deter any more. There is rape of course, but pepper spray in the face works pretty well.

      2. Empirical evidence: In other rich countries with stricter gun laws, people are not preying on each other. I don't have to watch myself in Ottawa. Maybe you could say that income distribution matters (poor have more to gain from taking from the rich), but that is more about property crime.

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    4. Prof. Williamson,

      I think Canada has a completely different culture. I'm not clear that it's possible to compare US & Canada strictly in terms of gun laws. (I'm Midwestern Canadian that grew up around guns, and now I'm a Midwestern American). It seems to me there are significant differences in the underlying violence and attitudes towards it in the two countries. Plus, there is the issue of black-on-black crime that doesn't exist to nearly the same extent in Canada as it does in the U.S.

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    5. First, I wouldn't say mugging has become trivial. And it's done for many reasons besides cash - jewelry, credit cards, intimidation, etc. Plus, it wouldn't surprise me if muggers target specific places where they know cash is still frequently used.

      And even still, at the last campus I attended, there were multiple cases of students being held at gunpoint to then be taken to an ATM or even their own residence.

      Besides rape, there's also burglary - both of residences and businesses. There's also murder...


      I'm not sure if you've seen this study that came out of Harvard:

      http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

      They look at western countries and find a negative correlation between ownership and murder rates. The relationship doesn't necessarily hold for *gun murder* rates but it's stark for murder rates - death by strangulation, beating, and stabbing are frequently much lower in countries with higher ownership rates. It's not a sophisticated statistical study by any means but I think it's reasonably suggestive. Here's a table they present:

      Nation; Murder Rate; Rate of Gun Ownership
      Russia 20.54 [2002] 4,000
      Luxembourg 9.01 [2002] c. 0
      Hungary 2.22 [2003] 2,000
      Finland 1.98 [2004] 39,000
      Sweden 1.87 [2001] 24,000
      Poland 1.79 [2003] 1,500
      France 1.65 [2003] 30,000
      Denmark 1.21 [2003] 19,000
      Greece 1.12 [2003] 11,000
      Switzerland 0.99 [2003] 16,000
      Germany 0.93 [2003] 30,000
      Norway 0.81 [2001] 36,000
      Austria 0.80 [2002] 17,000

      It's pretty remarkable. Russia, where nearly all guns were confiscated during the Soviet Union era, has an insane murder rate. Contrast this with Norway, where the highest ownership rate in the west is accompanied by the second lowest murder rate of all.

      A similar result was found from a study by Brandon Centerwall: he looked at the US and Canada.

      I'm just shocked at how for granted people are taking the relationship between ownership and crime. It's clearly a very debatable and difficult question to answer.

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    6. "I think Canada has a completely different culture."

      What's more similar, Alabama and New York, or Manitoba and North Dakota?

      "significant differences in the underlying violence"

      Yes, that's the point. No guns, less violence.

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    7. An older study, but nonetheless at odds with your suggestion:

      Homicide and the Prevalence of Handguns: Canada and the United States, 1976 to 1980

      Abstract

      As compared with Americans, Canadians in the 1970s possessed one tenth as many handguns per capita. To assess whether this affected the total criminal homicide rate, the mean annual criminal homicide rates of Canadian provinces were compared with those of adjoining US states for the period of 1976 to 1980. No consistent differences were observed; criminal homicide rates were sometimes higher in the Canadian province, and sometimes higher in the adjoining US state. Major differences in the prevalence of handguns have not resulted in differing total criminal homicide rates in Canadian provinces and adjoining US states. The similar rates of criminal homicide are primarily attributable to underlying similar rates of aggravated assault.

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    8. The key problem is in urban areas. Think Ottawa and St. Louis.

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    9. What's more similar, Alabama and New York, or Manitoba and North Dakota?

      So I take it you've moved on from that defense?

      The key problem is in urban areas. Think Ottawa and St. Louis.

      Okay. A couple questions.

      Do you think accidental gun deaths by "generally" law-abiding citizens are much greater in St. Louis than in Ottawa? Is this what you're mainly worried about?

      Or are you concerned with the level of criminal activity in St. Louis vs. Ottawa? In other words, gangs and the associated wars?

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    10. And also. When I visit friends in Austin, TX, I don't have to watch myself.

      When I'm out in downtown Des Moines, IA, I don't have to watch myself.

      Are guns more available or easier to acquire in St. Louis than in these places?

      You could have switched out twenty US cities for Ottawa where gun laws are no more stringent, sometimes less so, than in St. Louis.

      I'm trying to understand why you've assumed that f(g) is increasing in g. You still haven't provided much in the way of evidence except general anecdotal insinuation. And you haven't given any compelling arguments. I'm starting to think you've haven't really thought about, or looked into, the matter much.

      Do the papers above provide any doubt about what seems to be an unequivocal certainty that f(g) is increasing in g? Don't you think it would be somewhat dishonest and unscientific to construct a model under that assumption, given the evidence?

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    11. "Or are you concerned with the level of criminal activity in St. Louis vs. Ottawa? In other words, gangs and the associated wars?"

      Most of all, I'm concerned with the mindset of people like you.

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    12. What mindset are you referring to?

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    13. Here's the problem. There are two groups interested in having lax gun regulations: gun manufacturers and people who hunt and shoot. The gun manufacturers finance the NRA, and the NRA builds up a political constituency of hunters and shooters. The political constituency grows as a result of the promotion of fear about crime and phoney science about the efficacy of firearms in fighting crime. The hunters and shooters are primarily rural people who care little about the negative effects of the proliferation of guns in urban areas. You're obviously a part of this - whether you've been fooled by the misinformation campaign, or you're actually a source of phoney science makes little difference.

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    14. What do you mean by phoney science? What is phoney about the pieces I referred to?

      Remember, my only point is that the relationship between crime and gun ownership is unclear. I'm not even trying to argue that it's always negative.

      Can you point me to some science on the subject that is not phoney? I'd be more than happy to read the pieces that have guided your own opinion.

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    15. I'll interpret your lack of a response as evidence that your opinion is mainly based on personal experience and emotion.

      I encourage you to treat the subject as you treat the subjects you research in Macro. Here's a good start:

      http://www.largo.org/klecksum.html

      It's an overview of a large number of studies concerning crime and gun control.

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  5. "(i) they want to shoot animals with them; (ii) they want to shoot people with them; (iii) they want to threaten people with them."

    First:
    This is your premise? You are wrong off the bat... sigh. You should get immersed in gun-culture, before you spout off about something you obviously know nothing about.

    Second:
    You assume that the externality is a negative one, yet you haven't shown any econometrics or studies that actually say that.

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    1. I'll probably regret engaging with you, but 1) what else do people use guns for?
      2) The externalities of shooting someone are obviously negative. If nothing else, shooting someone requires police and/or doctors to spend time and money dealing with your mess.

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    2. Nate,

      I think Doc is thinking along the same lines I do. Point (ii) and (iii) imply aggression in the phrasing. However, there are defensive versions of (ii) and (iii). Also, many of us in the 'gun culture' shoot targets (I don't hunt) and also simply appreciate guns for the masterful engineering.

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    3. "You should get immersed in gun-culture..."

      I live in the US, in the state of Missouri, in the city of St. Louis. I am already immersed.

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    4. If you love masterful engineering, buy a watch. If you like target shooting, buy a BB gun. If you want to shoot a person, buy a handgun. (I don't care about your aggressive/defensive distinction)

      I think it's disgusting that thousands of people die every year so people like you can play with toys.

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    5. Wow, Nate, thanks for judging me as a person. I don't get enough of that from the interwebs!

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  6. "But $3600 is coming nowhere close to the potential damage that a single weapon could cause."

    True. But a Pigou Tax should be set not at the possible damage but at the expected damage.

    What is it, 11,000 firearms murders a year? $5 million statistical value of a life?

    $55 billion divided by 300 million gives $180 a gun license.

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    1. "But a Pigou Tax should be set not at the possible damage but at the expected damage."

      That's not correct.

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    2. To be more precise, here's a crude model. There's a set of identical consumers, who get utility from consumption c and guns g. Their preferences are described by u(c,g). There is a fixed quantity of output in this economy, y, and you can convert c into g at a rate of one-for-one. Probability of death in this model is f(g), where f is an increasing function. Impose a proportional tax on g, and guns will sell at a price 1+t in terms of consumption goods. Assume that a person who dies gets utility u(0,0) - we're leaving out the other externality, which is the effect on family members and community. If I worked this out correctly, the optimal tax is:

      t = {f'(g)[u(c,g)-u(0,0]}/{u1[1-f(g)]},

      where u1 is the marginal utility of consumption. You can see that the critical thing here is [u(c,g)-u(0,0)]/u1. That's the value of depriving someone of life. That object is multiplied by a hazard rate. Suppose f(g) = 1 - exp(-ag). Then the hazard rate is a constant, a. Thus, t can be huge.

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  7. The entire concept of EXTERNALITIES is difficult for some American's to swallow. The more subtle 'social/economic influences', loosely speaking, clash with the positive doctrines of atomism and liberalism (freedoms/rights).

    In short, American's don't want to admit social influences. They are hell bent on viewing every (wo)man's actions as (her) his own. It threatens the idea of the individual to suggest anything otherwise.

    Hence the catch-phrase, "Guns don't kill people, people do". Which could be translated:

    "EXTERNALITIES don't kill people, (individual) people do"


    ...Often, this view is rippled with all types of cognitive dissonance, where such advocates cherry-pick data to reinforce their position. Attacking these arguments will seldom get through. They are the afterthought of conviction, an ad hoc justification of a deeply embedded ideology.

    The arguments are pillars propping up clouds. But knocking them down won't make it rain.

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  8. Instead of a tax, require liability insurance as is done for automobiles.

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    1. Sure. Autos are a good example. We have strict licensing requirements, required training, and insurance. Also strict product safety regulation.

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    2. To drive on public roads, yes. Not to own.
      And there is strong product safety regulation for firearms, although you are apparently unaware of it. Firearm designs go through rigorous testing before they are allowed to be sold, and are occasionally recalled if a defect is found.

      As I said below, this horrible post makes me question your ability to admit ignorance of a subject and resist making baseless claims.

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  9. Such an intriguing post. I'm for more regulation of guns. I thought it might reflect my left of center bias but your thought provoking post says maybe the economist in me was actually bubbling up unnoticed. Thanks for such a thoughtful discussion!

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  10. People buy guns for three reasons: (i) shoot animals (ii) shoot people (iii) threaten people.

    Not quite right. Add i) collect ii) range shooting (competition, biathlon etc)

    Not sure it changes the conclusion but we prob need to acknowledge that gun owning reasons can be quite diverse.

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    1. Guns were invented to kill people, but you can use them to shoot targets. Claw hammers were invented to drive/remove nails, but you can use them to kill people. While they're both tools, only one was designed specifically as a weapon.

      Gun owning is so diverse, it ranges all the way from 'shooting people' to 'shooting other stuff.'

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    2. And I thought I was being so reasonable...

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  11. "If there are 300 million guns in the United States, and we impose a tax of $3600 per gun on the current stock, we would eliminate the federal government deficit."

    Of course there won't be 300 million guns owned in the US if there is a $3600 tax on them. Tax an activity and people do less of it.

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    1. Yes indeed. You have to worry about demand elasticities. But the current stock is inelastic. We can get a lot of revenue at least temporarily.

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  12. I would take less than $1,000 for my cat. Make me an offer.

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  13. Here's some anecdotes on possible massacres that were stopped. When it comes to outliers (like school shootings), what we really have are annecdotes.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/129203.html

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  14. any darn fool with enough sense to come in out of the rain knows that taxes will reduce gun use.
    I think it is arrogant to pretend that economist have some special insight, and use of words like pigouvian and externality is just pretensious academic jargon.

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    1. That gul darn pretentious jargon. Should tax it.

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    2. If I had wanted to, I could have spell checked my post; I could even have consulted Strunk or Fowler, or, to be pedantic and obscure, Jespersen, on any grammatical or usage points about which I had doubts.
      That you respond to a triviality (spelling) without addressing the issue - that reducing use of something with taxes doesn't require fancy jargon like Pigouvian and externality, sort of says it all, doesn't it ?

      Jespersen - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Jespersen; I remember, as a freshman, wandering thru the college stacks, being deeply impressed by the feet of shelving taken up

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  16. "That you respond to a triviality (spelling) without addressing the issue..."

    Since you don't get it, I'll have to explain it to you. I'm not responding to your spelling. You didn't raise an "issue," you called me "arrogant" and "pretentious." Where I come from, that's not how we start a conversation. Thus, my response was a joke. Where I come from, that means I'm not yet prepared to take you seriously. You could start over, or you could give up.

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  20. I think I'll give up.
    "guns" are just a metaphor, for you know what!

    Let's say each of the 100 or so rotten borough economists, Mankiw, Cockraine, Mulligan, Lucas, yourself, prevented, say $10 billion of recovery towards potential, add it up to $1 trillion, say.
    So, tax all economists (there are 13,000 or so in jobs, call it 20,000) about $5,000,000 each, for the harm that's caused by just a few. Makes a lot of sense?
    Of course it does, because if only Nobles can carry guns, no problems with the Serfs, Neh?
    Serfs, making them equal to Nobles, that would require something of each of us, not just the wanna-be nobles. Comes down to about $3,500 each, that we've had to "pay" for a the harm done by a few.

    OOPS, social goods, OOPS, don't exist, you say?
    OK, then neither does ill will on the part of the sane.

    Tom Friedman is on to the same thing in today's NY Times. The Republican Party can get rid of the crazies and just find someone who favors market-based solutions.

    Ha, bought his own stuff! I've lived long enough to know and like real republicans, none you'd know of, but like Eisenhower, N. Rockefeller, Nixon in his rare moments of sanity like the negative income tax,

    Republicans I Say!

    Republicans, who believed in Plato's legacy, the Guardian. Today, we believe in the congress, where a few hundred by committee can hope to approach, hampered by their own interests, what one, who cannot be made to exist, would do.

    Markets, really? It's not too bad, you join the illustrious Tom and many other youngsters in misunderestimating the Republican spirit.

    Actually, it occurs that "democrats" like Paul Krugman and hopefully myself are the only Republicans left standing, in the original meaning of the word.

    Of course, Adam Smith went along, called controlling the market "policing."

    Please forget your Pigovian solution, it would be cheaper to just arm everyone. Say 100,000,000 armless X $100. A peasily ten billion. You could pay it!

    Actually, and seriously, it will be very expensive, once guns are licensed, to call out the overhang, really expensive, a generational task, like global warming. Perhaps your suggestion is a joke?

    Please don't mind my scathing, I have much enjoyed your historical work. It was you?
    Anyway, what happened?

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    1. "Mankiw, Cockraine, Mulligan, Lucas, yourself"

      What do I have in common with those four other people?

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  21. Professor Williamson,
    Provocative post. I read another one, pretty much diametrically the opposite, that I found persuasive. It's here:
    http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/an-opinion-on-gun-control/
    I would appreciate your take.

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    1. Why do you find that sort of thing persuasive?

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    2. It's hard to answer that question in a short comment. The big-picture reason I liked it is that it's so factual: he understands guns, for one thing. Back to my question: what is your take?

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    3. "...he understands guns..."

      What does that mean?

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    4. It means things like that he understands that there's no particular meaning to the term "assault rifle," that automatic weapons have been illegal since 1934, that it's very useful for self-defense to have a semi-automatic weapon, etc. I'm still interested, though, in your answer to my original question: what's your take on his article?

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    5. Nothing new. I'm not sure why you think it is so profound.

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    6. I didn't ask you whether you thought it was new. Something can be old and still correct, like the law of demand. So let me refine my question: do you think it makes good points that are also important points?

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  22. I read a Gawker comment, where someone proposed using private insurance, akin to how autos are insured. Of course we all know the market failures inherent in insurance markets and whether gun insurance would pass the constitutional test, but an insurance scheme may help. Policy prices would vary by type of weapon, training of owner, trigger locks, gun safe present, and it could also be dependent on whether one had a mental health screening and who else would have access to the weapon or in the household.

    Such a scheme most likely wouldn't be constitutional, but as the pro-gun crowd overlaps with the "no-roll for government/taxes" crowd, having a private market solution in the mix would prove interesting, just to see the "pundit pretzel" on the political talk shows.

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  23. I credit Williamson for fascinating commentary on this one.

    It seems to me that taxing guns in relation to their firepower makes sense.

    Then the market might develop, say, a two-shot revolver that is barely taxed at all, since it is intended for home protection not mass slaughter. Hunting rifles ditto.

    The big magazine, rapid-fire weaponry would get taxed more heavily....

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  24. Stephen, I think you are missing the larger point. While I can certainly appreciate the economic arguments for stricter gun control, I'm afraid civil liberties trump economics in this case. Whether you like it or not, gun ownership is a civil right in this country. And the fact that it is a civil right has absolutely nothing to do with i) hunting ii) range shooting iii) collecting iv) or protection from burglars. The reason why we have the 2nd Amendment is so that the citizens of this country can protect themselves from both foreign invasion and domestic government tyranny. Now you may view these scenarios as very low probability events, but the 2nd Amendment was designed to prevent or at least deter them from happening.

    This is where the various proposals for banning semi automatic assault rifles and other para military weapons breaks down. These are exactly the type of weapons that a citizenry would need to repel both foreign and domestic aggression.

    Now you may think that I am simply some kind of paranoid for making these arguments. But it is clear that all of the recent talk about what to do regarding our gun culture completely ignores what the 2nd Amendment is all about and why it occupies such an important place in our Bill of Rights.

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    1. By that logic, you could argue that the right of this person to do what he did is protected by the second amendment:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_McVeigh

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    2. That is ridiculous, Stephen. What McVeigh did was murder dozens of innocent civilians. No sane person would seriously argue that his actions constituted a justifiable defense against a foreign aggressor or a domestic dictatorship. And if memory serves me correct, McVeigh didn't commit murder with a high powered assault weapon, but instead by a massive truck bomb. This was not a weapon of self defense, this was an instrument of terrorism.

      Be that as it may, assault weapons can also be used as instruments of terrorism as we have seen all too often in this country. And in those cases, the perpetrator can be prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law (presuming he/she doesn't kill themselves first). But that does not justify banning those weapons from the vast majority of responsible citizens.

      Acts of terrorism are not protected by the 2nd Amendment. For you to conclude that from my statement is really astonishing.

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    3. This is why your argument is riddled with inconsistency. The framers of the constitution were not infallible, and they could not look into the future to see changes in technology. The fallibility is reflected in the second amendment. Presumably the framers liked the idea of a free militia, as they had just overthrown a tyrant. But they had also written the rules for a fledgling democracy which, if they wrote the rules correctly, would not permit the existence of a tyrant. Why would you need a militia to overthrow a democratically-elected government? The second amendment has been used as a bludgeon in ways that I'm sure the framers never intended - they could not have foreseen handguns, automatic weapons, and the consequences of their proliferation. It's easy for you to use "terrorist" to apply to the people you don't like, but from my point of view, it looks like your arguments are a justification for domestic terrorism.

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    4. "The reason why we have the 2nd Amendment is so that the citizens of this country can protect themselves from both foreign invasion and domestic government tyranny"

      Well, by your logic, since the U.S. and foreign governments possess missiles and nuclear bombs then why limit the 2nd Amendment to assault weapons? Why not allow citizens to obtain dirty bombs, bazookas, and so on in order to protect themselves from "low probability events"? When the 2nd Amendment was passed these weapons did not exist. You cannot apply the original rationale to a very different modern reality!

      Finally, the 2nd Amendment ties the right to bear arms to the need for a "well regulated militia". Recently the Supreme Court decided that the right extends to people not belonging to a militia for the purpose of self-defense. But to the extent that we are talking about these people (and not well-regulated militias) then whatever other reasons were behind the 2nd Amendment are not relevant.

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    5. Professor,
      Adding the second amendment was writing the rules properly to prevent the occurence of a tyrant. Additionally, any location that has strict gun control even an isolated island like the UK suffers from an increase in violent and non-violent crime. Your post attempts to measure variables in a vacuum which is good for a generalization when there is no relevant data to analyze. However that is not the case here.

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    6. And something I should have attached to the above post but I am sure I am getting absent minded in my old age.

      http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323777204578195470446855466.html

      And I would like to toss in a bit of admiration for your work even if there might be a disagreement on this particular policy issue.

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  25. Stephen,

    I did not use the word "terrorist" to describe people with whom I disagree or do not like. I used it to describe the actions of Tim McVeigh, who you brought up as an example. Please do not misinterpret my words.

    As to your other argument, you claim that the founders could not have anticipated the development of new technologies (handguns, automatic weapons, etc ...). But certainly they were keenly aware of the progress of technology and would have crafted the Constitution to be just as applicable in the future when new technologies would be available.

    For you to say that the 2nd Amendment is not infallible, then I think what you are saying is that gun ownership is NOT necessarily a basic civil right. If this is your position, then I'm afraid that you are profoundly wrong. The Bill of Rights enumerates in no uncertain terms precisely the things that our Federal Government can NOT deny us. The right to bear arms is one of those things.

    If the political left in this country doesn't think gun ownership should be protected by our government, then I suggest they get 2/3 of the Senate and House of Representatives to pass an Amendment to the US Constitution, get the President to sign it, and then get 3/4 of the states to ratify it.


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  26. "and would have crafted the Constitution to be just as applicable in the future"

    They did. As I wrote in my previous comment, they talk about "arms" but do not specify what types of arms! Moreover, they tie the right to the need for a WELL REGULATED militia.

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  27. Well i would like to say that Guns should not be used for the sake of fun.

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  28. You say guns are used to shoot animals or people or to threaten. What about shooting skeet or trap? What about competitive rifle shooting? And you say that semi-automatic guns are not needed for hunting. You could also say that guns generally are not needed for hunting. Hunters could use rocks and clubs instead. Have you ever been hunting or fired a weapon used for hunting? I've found your posts on monetary issues to be quite informative. You know nothing about guns.

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  29. result of the promotion of fear about crime and phoney science about the efficacy of firearms in fighting crime.

    Stephen, I like your money thoughts, I think some small license fee, not onerous for an unemployed black woman on welfare who wants to buy a gun, is reasonable. But you seem to advocate a punitive tax to take away that freedom.

    I don't see any references by you to non-phoney science that support your own rationalizations, and the few more reasonable fact based comments & link seem to support more gun ownership as leading to less gun violence against people.

    It's scientifically unsound to aggregate black on black violence with white on white violence, if the those rates reflect "sufficiently" different cultures, even if both groups are in the USA. I claim those cultures are more different than male & female differences in auto safety, and most insurance companies (used to?) discriminate with different rates for men and women.

    Similarly, I don't think you've applied the cost of accidental death/ value of a human life equally to deaths by car accident and deaths by guns.


    Finally, the big driver of most gun deaths is the drug war, with the state using guns to try to stop peaceful, honest, drug transactions, and the state refusing to enforce drug contracts requiring drug sellers to have their own, illegal, contract-enforcement gun users.

    The media circus around the school killing has, unscientifically, distracted many who care about human life from the hundreds murdered in Chicago in 2012, including many many children -- where they have among the strictest gun laws already.

    Ending the gov't war on people involved in drug use is the biggest step to reduce murders -- just as re-legalizing alcohol after prohibition led to a big reduction in gang murders in the 30s.

    I think there should be a tax on school districts which don't have at least 10 trained and active concealed carry licensed gun owners as teachers or administrators at the school, ready to stop any crazy gun shooter.

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  30. Yo man, more blog posts! Less teaching/publishing/writing LOR. Get your time allocation right!

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  31. Often economists push "policies". Are they trying to function be unelected politician?

    Think. If 3/4ths of the politicians were economists with degrees would we be looking for ways to defend our homes and properties?

    Who do you represent? Who elected you? And have you taken the oath of office to defend the Constitution?

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  32. On the externality problem, we can be more inventive. A standard tool for dealing with externalities is the Pigouvian tax. Tax the source of the bad externality, and you get less of it. How big should the tax be? An unusual problem here is that the size of the externality is random - every gun is not going to injure or kill someone. There's also an inherent moral hazard problem, in that the size of the externality depends on the care taken by the gunowner.
    . shootingtargets7.com

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  33. First, great work on economics and guns in society. I believe that comparative data within states based upon regulatory differences in relationship to registration/permit process helps analyze statistical correlations. Further, the developed nations, and regulated states, have excellent data for this purpose. The data is ripe with low firearm death rates where the U.S. (as a nation) is an outlier. So, it is clear guns cost societies more than the benefit received. The issue that I have with the Chicago School is that comparative analysis is void other developed nations results. Comparing the U.S. to itself when they are an outlier to other nations is similar to verifying that a poor student is improving. Useless if the student is failing compared to other students. Compare your nation against other developed nations. If we are failing, then we need to improve the benefits the other developed nations receive. For this reasoning alone, I firmly believe the sited work from the Chicago School is faulty.

    Now, I personally like messages of how the firearm deaths (yes, suicides,as well as murders, are reduced in total when guns are removed)are saved by simple regulation. Hawaii is an outlier here. Why, I don't know. New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and, yes, even California, are good states to look for in analysis seeking correlations, say, against Idaho, Alaska, Wyoming, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Montana, Alabama and a host of other states with little firearm regulation. Firearm death rates are better as the firearm regulations increase.

    The problem with regulation is state border crossings. New Jersey with a 4.72 firearm deaths per 100,000 citizen borders Pennsylvania with 10.7/100,000. New Jersey requires a permit to be issued for all repeating firearms. Pennsylvania has virtually no minimizing regulations. The border appears to affect the firearm murder rate in New Jersey which is abnormally high compared to Massachusetts and Hawaii with similar firearm regulation. Firearms are crossing this state line. Massachusetts borders states with some firearm regulations. Hawaii have bordering states.

    I submit registration/permit process reduces firearm deaths AND firearm murders in a vast way without taxation. Further, data is available to estimate life savings in a reasonable statistical manner. Taxation would assist in the debilitating factors as a result of the firearms. Taxation on cigarettes and alcohol is used for this reason and correlates in reduced consumption. Why not do the same in a reasonable amount with firearms? Taxation will create inefficiency. $3,600, at first look, equates to a high level of inefficiency.

    I am not sure if we can obtain from all law enforcement the number of victims' lives saved by the victim having a firearm in defense. I doubt the correlation for more firearms is concluded here. I personally believe the numbers are very, very large in needless lost lives that we could define statistically by high number of firearms versus "potential" savings by having a firearm. Comparative statistics do tell us that criminals take very few lives by firearms, and even fewer by other means, in states, and all developed nations, with registration/permit requirements on firearms.

    Finally, thank you for using Moral Hazard in your article. What in the "Dickens" is wrong with the Chicago and Austrian School of Economics with history revealing this concept as a common occurrence with economic failures. Without dealing with this issue in all studies in economics, to me, make the papers released useless and the academic achievement of the paper's compiler suspect.

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  34. The people who buy the guns and use them seem to enjoy having them. But there are third parties who suffer. People shooting at animals can hit people. shootingtargets7.com

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  35. Unsubscribed. This post was disgusting. Pontificating despite your obvious ignorance on the subject makes me question everything you've written that I can't verify.

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  36. Thanks for writing this. I really feel as though I know so much more about this than I did before. Your blog really brought some things to light that I never would have thought about before reading it.cara cepat hamil l belajar bahasa inggris

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  37. this blog gives really a nice information related to the gun control and if you are having the gun then plz don't use this to shoot the animals and plz repair your gun time to time for reducing the noise pollution that is happen due to gun sound and it disturb the animals and human being also if you needs a rifle parts for repairing your rifle then the company i know is helpful for you. ....

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