Friday, December 21, 2012

More Guns, More Crime

I, like most folks, was totally horrorstruck by the news last Friday of the school shooting in Connecticut.  Being the father of a first and fifth grader it was especially horrifying.  There were a lot of tears and grief stricken faces at the school pick-up that day among the parents.  The kids, fortunately, were blissfully unaware. 

There has been a lot of gun violence lately that has made the news, but we often forget just how much gun violence goes on day to day in the US.  I don't know the precise policy response but I am convinced by one thing: the evidence is pretty convincing that more guns leads to more gun violence.  The one really stupid response to these tragedies would be to call for even more guns: let's arm everyone because that will make us safer! 

And so of course the NRA today does exactly that and has come out with a statement that essentially says the answer to the problem of gun violence is ... wait for it ... more guns!  I know I am venturing into dangerous ground here criticizing the NRA but this is truly stupid.  Do we really want kids to grow up knowing armed guards are necessary to protect their safety?  And the same folks who are calling for armed police in schools are likely the same ones who will complain loudest when taxes have to be raised to pay for it.  

And, by the way, any argument that the Newtown tragedy would have happened independent of guns is absurd, so let's just not even go there. But this is an economics blog and the point of this post is to point to the evidence.

Here is an excerpt from an old blog post:

One thing we can't do is look at correlations: the fact that gun ownership and crime are positively correlated tells us nothing about the causal link.  So what economist Mark Duggan did, in his groundbreaking paper "More Guns, More Crime" was to find something that is correlated with gun ownership, but uncorrelated with unexplained variation in crime.  In his case he looks at subscriptions to gun magazines.  This is plausibly correlated with gun ownership and unrelated to unexplained variation in homicide rates.  Using these data to instrument for gun ownership he finds that gun ownership is significantly positively related to the homicide rate - almost exclusively related to homicides committed with a gun.  Ayres and Donohue have also examined the evidence on concealed weapons laws and found that the evidence is mixed, but the bulk of the evidence suggests that, if anything, concealed carry laws increase the incidence of crimes. 

In my mind there are two arguments, both a flawed: one is that regardless of guns crazy people will find a way to  kill.  This ignores the fact that crazy homicidal people are an order of magnitude more lethal with guns.  The other is that if there are more guns around people will know it and be deterred.  But the crazy homicidal person is ready to die anyway and is crazy, meaning rational calculations do not figure in.  

Though policy should not be based in anecdote, the Newtown tragedy was all about guns.  No guns, no tragedy.


Dann Cutter said...

I am surprised that more aren't taking the financial angle into play.

At just under 10,000 schools, this realistically amounts to about a $50 to $100 fee increase PER PERSON in the US to provide armed security at schools.

Simply just tie that to gun ownership instead - a yearly gun fee based on number of guns in circulation. Its roughly the same number surprisingly.

However, people would pretty quickly turn in guns which they couldn't afford/need and now the number goes up - very quickly, it becomes ridiculously expensive to own a gun.

The NRA wants everyone to support subsidizing their right to own assault rifles etc. So they just suggest a universal and large tax increase. The NRA. The irony is overwhelming.

Fred Thompson said...

Getting rid of guns entirely would probably save 10-20,000 lives and prevent at least 50,000 injuries a year. Using standard QALY (quality-adjusted life years) values, that’s at least $100 billion a year, $330 for every gun in the United States (or, in the alternative >$100 per bullet sold).

Getting rid of guns isn’t a feasible option. Instead, what is needed are policies and practices that would work to minimize the harms done by guns and, at the same time, respect the interests of folks who want to own guns and use them for legitimate purposes and the guarantees evidently afforded those interests by the Bill of Rights.

What are those legitimate purposes? Most Americans agree that self protection, hunting, and target and skeet shooting are legitimate purposes. There are, perhaps, others as well, gun collecting, for example. Presumably, these uses ought to be subject to the minimum restrictions necessary to mitigate the carnage guns cause.

It would be great if, as a result of last week’s shooting in Connecticut, something were finally done about guns, even better if the steps taken were effective. We ought to look a range of mechanisms to increase the efficacy of personal and product liability, including registration of ownership, regulation of access to guns and ammunition, differential taxes to promote legitimate uses and discourage hazardous ones. We probably ought to look at the steps taken in countries with gun cultures like ours, e.g., Switzerland, that have achieved low murder, suicide, and accidental gun death rates (Switzerland has more households with guns than the US, but fewer deaths from violent injury than countries that have outlawed guns entirely like the UK and Japan). It would even be nice if we could work with the NRA on this issue. People who like guns are likely to understand better how to minimize the bloodshed that they cause at least cost to legitimate values. (Noting the NRA’s first reaction to the Connecticut school shooting, a $100 billion solution to $6 billion problem, one that could easily be entirely ineffective, it would be understandable if this sentiment were regarded as a foolish hope, but its logic is, I think, valid).

Mike Jacob said...

Let's not forget the Chinese crazy person who went on a rampage just a day or two earlier in China and killed 22 school children.
With a knife.
The moral of the story is that objects have no morals.
Human Beings are moral agents. If they have no scruples about killing, they will use a knife, a gun, a rock, or a car to achieve the same purpose.
Thousands die each year due to drunk driving, and no one suggests we ban cars, and can we remember the economic consequences of Prohibition in the U.S.? Organized crime exists today because of it. Do we really think making guns illegal will end the problem?
It is an issue of the spirit, or the soul, whatever you want to call that part of man that houses the concepts of right and wrong.
The law that controls that has yet to be written.

Dann Cutter said...

I think it is important to note in discussing guns and knives however: the attack in China - no one died. All 22 children survived.