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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6580/why-economists-tend-to-oppose-gun-control-laws/

Why Economists Tend to Oppose Gun Control Laws

May 2, 2007 by

After the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, writes Scot Kjar, many well-intentioned people all over the country have been calling for increased gun control laws. Many people argue that if the shooter did not have guns and bullets, he would not have been able to shoot all of those people. This is surely correct. However, from that, they infer that if he did not have guns and bullets, he would not have been able to kill all of those people. This is a whole different question. FULL ARTICLE


Brad May 2, 2007 at 9:13 am

I do not advocate gun control, but I do wonder if a bomb is, in fact, a perfect substitute. A bomb perhaps is a little more broadcast, if a person has a specific gripe, a jilting lover and their supporters, a classroom of tormentors, a bomb might just that much too broadcast even for one as “gone” as the VT shooter. Also, it is more passive, shooting is much more “personal” approach. Looking your victims in the eye first, letting them know it is YOU who is killing them, settling of scores and whatnot, while maintaining the clear upperhand.

McVeigh had it in for the whole Federal System, and so his choice made sense on that scale. Some people have a problem with only person, and we seem to see the use of automobiles many times in such cases. The VT occurence seems to fall somewhere in between. If one has a problem with lover/supporters thereof or a schoolroom or a workplace, there are specific individuals they want to make sure are dead. Some others maybe not. Some perhaps on the spur of the moment, “they made the coffee too strong”, “they always took the last of the paperclips”, ….. who knows….

A bomb is not a perfect substitute.

Having said all that, succh folk are extremely rare. It makes no sense to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I’d think a much more persuasive argument from an economic perspective is the fact that such occurences, relative to total gun ownership (for sport, pleasure, or protection) is a very small statistical group. If gun ownership is seen in terms of allocation of resources, it is nonsense to undo 99.5% of the allocation for .5% misuse, or whatever the percentages are.

Tim Kern May 2, 2007 at 9:18 am

Of course, net of commodities, perfect substitutes don’t exist. The point is that the ends could be achieved by many means — a bomb, serin gas, reporting suspicious activities (true or untrue) of the proposed victims to the government, subsidizing the prices of junk food on campus…

Mike Puente May 2, 2007 at 9:20 am

I think the reasoning behind your premise is totally flawed. The fact that there are substitutes for guns is not a reason not to control the use of guns. If access to guns had been curtailed, at least one of the many options and substitutes available to Cho would have been elimintated, which is already something. And you cannot be serious when you state that car bombings are a feasible substitute. It is infinitely more complex to set up a functioning car bomb than to go into a gun shop and buy a gun. Moreover, you say that car bombings are not rare: in Iraq they’re not, of course! But in the US they most definitely are. You are comparing apples and pears here. You also say that “when disaffected people start planning mass mayhem, the lack of a gun will not stop them.” It won’t stop them, but it will sure as hell make life more difficult for them, which is what it’s all about. Guns are the easiest, most efficient and most available method to kill. Other substitutes are not as readily accessible nor easy to use. Your own arguments actually point to the opposite conclusion that you had hoped to reach.

Brad May 2, 2007 at 9:53 am

***If access to guns had been curtailed, at least one of the many options and substitutes available to Cho would have been elimintated, which is already something. ***

But it would appear that Cho was not eligible for gun ownership already. So even more draconian rules would have to be put into place, which is ultimately what gun control/elimination advocates want. But it still stands that there is a huge ownership of guns for sport, recreational shooting, and defense. We could make a huge bureaucracy to push paper and be generally ineffective at keeping guns out of the hands of people who ultimately do such as VT, while making it extremely difficult for the law abiding to do as they please, not ever having threatened anyone or their property. The combination of the technology involved, the level of oblique threat to society, the regularity of the occurence of misuse, and the quiet enjoyment of firearms (by and large) does not, rationally, call for more restrictions. If we want to live in a free society, allowing maximum freedom to “different” people who have not yet threatened anyone, and maximum freedom to recreate or defense as one sees fit, there is ultimately going to be a rather small intersection of the two subsets resulting in events such as VT.

So, perhaps, endless new bureaucracy may have prevented the VT shootings, but it certainly would have curtailed a huge amount personal liberty to others, who pose absolutely no threat, or have not given any indication that they do. When such things happen, its easy to quantify the loss under scenario one, loose gun laws, while its impossible to quantify the loss under the other, tighter gun laws.

Steve Hogan May 2, 2007 at 9:56 am

Whether there are substitutes for guns makes for an interesting conversation, but ultimately it would not have mattered in this case. The school was a gun-free zone, and the criminal ignored the law. That is why he was a criminal.

It might be difficult for advocates of gun control to grasp this concept: mentally-deranged individuals willing to mow down people in cold blood over several hours, then take his own life, do not care about arbitrary laws. Why is this so difficult to understand?

The only way to prevent shootings is to remove all guns from private hands, and to do that would require a Stalin-like state. Even then a black market would arise. The worst of both worlds.

The alternative is to permit people to defend themselves. Maybe some of those 32 victims would be alive today had they been given that right.

Cassandre Malka May 2, 2007 at 9:57 am

I would be interested to know Mr. Scot Kjar reaction to the Journal The Economist recent position for stricter Gun Control policies. Apparently, it is not only economically illiterate ‘well-intentioned’ individuals that support such policy. The economically minded is apparently subject to ‘interventionist’ weakness as well. It was particularly disheartening to observe a Journal that elucidates the shortcoming of Anti-drug policy disregard the heart of economic analysis in order to espouse a moral stance. As a Canadian that remembers the Dawson tragedy of last September, I must ask: If gun control policy hasn’t work in Canada, why would it be any different for the United States?

George Gaskell May 2, 2007 at 10:22 am

If access to guns had been curtailed, at least one of the many options and substitutes available to Cho would have been elimintated, which is already something.

No, it’s nothing.

Actually, it’s worse than nothing, because your proposed solution (a) does nothing to solve any real problem, and (b) causes new problems for many others. The ‘curtailing’ you describe is worse than doing nothing.

It is at best stupid and at worst despicable to use a single, rare-but-attention-getting incident to scare people into implementing rules that will increase the harm and decrease the quality of life for millions of other people.

SB May 2, 2007 at 11:23 am

Here’s a more obvious substitute: Cho could’ve easily driven a car onto campus and ran people over at will. He could’ve killed even more with an automobile than a gun. Would we then ban cars?

Francisco Torres May 2, 2007 at 11:27 am

The fact that there are substitutes for guns is not a reason not to control the use of guns.

No, but since many gun-control advocates use the “See what happened?” argument, then the fact that there are substitutes weaken the case FOR gun control.

If access to guns had been curtailed, at least one of the many options and substitutes available to Cho would have been elimintated, which is already something.

He was already uneligible to buy a gun. Which means that the option was NOT eliminated by gun controls. Indeed, the very people that NEEDED guns in the first place were placed in a worse position due to gun control, than Mr. Cho.

It is infinitely more complex to set up a functioning car bomb than to go into a gun shop and buy a gun.

Infinitely? Try again – it is VERY easy.

Moreover, you say that car bombings are not rare: in Iraq they’re not, of course! But in the US they most definitely are.

And so are mass shootings. Your point is not clear. What the author is saying is that shootings are already very rare.

It won’t stop them, but it will sure as hell make life more difficult for them, which is what it’s all about.

In Mexico, it is illegal to own a gun over a specific caliber (normally 9 mm and above). That has NOT made the drug dealers’ lives any less brutal than it is already, which means they have more than ample access to guns despite the prohibition. Unfortunately (and this is where your case collapses), it makes the life of the ordinary folk more miserable and dangerous, unable to defend themselves due to the regulations.

Bill Drissel May 2, 2007 at 12:53 pm

The most obvious substitutes for (legally-purchased) guns are illegally-purchased guns. There are lotsa guns in the US. They are mostly made of steel. They aren’t going to go away because someone passes a law against them. At the first sign of an effective law to confiscate guns, they will vanish into the black market.

The hopes and aims of gun preventers are futile. (See Wash DC and NYC)

Bill Drissel

Ron Brown May 2, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Bill Drissel is absolutely correct. The best substitute for legal guns are illegal guns. I’m surprised that Scot Kjar didn’t mention that in the article. Anyone doubting this need only look at the drug laws.

Also, the only reason for the 2nd amendment was so people could protect themselves from tyranical government. Being able to protect yourself from others was simply assumed.

Michael A. Clem May 2, 2007 at 1:31 pm

In a nutshell: gun control laws make it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, but don’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This is not a difficult concept to grasp, is it?

T.G.G.P May 2, 2007 at 1:49 pm

The largest school killing was at Bath Township, Michigan in 1927. It was bombed by a school board member upset over property taxes used to build the school. The worst ever incident of spree killing occurred in Korea in 1982. It was done by a police officer who used grenades. Previous to that the worst massacre had been commited in 1938 in Japan, by a young man who used an old rifle and a samurai sword. The columbine killers used several pipe bombs. In 2001 in Osaka Prefecture a janitor stabbed eight children to death and wounded many others.

It is a bit strange that guns have been used so much more often in America than elsewhere. Every attempted assassination against the President has been with a gun, except an attempt to crash a plane into the White House when Nixon was in office. One of John Wilke’s Booth’s fellow conspirators attempted to use a knife after failing to shoot Seward, but was unsuccessful in that as well (the appointed assassin of vice President Johnson just got drunk instead of trying to kill him). Around the turn of the century in Europe there were many “bomb-throwing anarchists” who succeeded in killing heads of state, but the only one who did so in America was Leon Csolzgolz who used a “lemon-squirter” gun hidden under a bandage in his hand.

alt1985 May 2, 2007 at 4:12 pm

Obviously, gun control does not work. It won’t stop criminals. As one of my friends mentioned shortly after the shooting, swords can kill people. Should we ban swords? Stones can kill people. Should we ban stones? Oh yeah, if someone wants to kill you, they’ll find a way to kill you…gun or no gun. You could throw a chair at someone, and that could kill them. You can push them downstairs and that will kill them. When are people going to understand that murder is an issue of the heart and mind, not a result of a gun being around? Guns don’t cause murder…people murder with or without guns.

RogerM May 2, 2007 at 5:28 pm

There’s an economist who tracks crimes that have been prevented by gun owners. I can’t remember his name so if someone could help me out I would appreciate it. If I remember correctly, he estimates about one million crimes prevented each year by gun owners. But those prevented crimes don’t make the news; they’re the unseen part of the debate. The seen part is the actual killings by criminals using guns. Good economists consider both the seen and unseen parts of the question. It would be a shame to ban guns from good people and allow criminals to commit one million more violent crimes each year in order to possibly same a few college students every ten years.

Besides, as the London bombers have demonstrated, bombs are a good substitute for guns.

The Mad Pigeon May 2, 2007 at 8:55 pm


I’ve trackbacked your article to Diary of the Mad Pigeon.


Much obliged,

Capt Mad Pigeon, USAF
Spc – Sgt, USA 1994-1999

Ignatius Gorgonzola May 3, 2007 at 12:19 am

Why Economists Tend to Oppose Gun Control Laws” –

OK, one thing that I do know is that economists are suckers for objective, quantitative evidence. Does Scott A. Kjar have any quantitative evidence (such as a personal survey, or a literature survey) that supports his thesis, which seems to be that a majority of economists (a reasonable interpretation of “economists tend”) oppose gun control? This is an objective question!

Mamurjon May 3, 2007 at 4:45 pm

The author’s explanation is great. He might have gone too far by mentioning CAR BOMB as a substitute to a gun. But a crazy person intending to kill many people did not even have to do that. All he had to do was to drive a car into a crowd of students. That happens quite frequently, mostly unintentionally vehicles driven by elderly drivers hit bunch of pedestrians. As a result scores of innocent people get killed or disabled for life. Do you read your local news, people?

So you can’t argue with the concept of substitutes. That applies to everything.

Lisa M. May 4, 2007 at 5:21 am

I want to express my appreciation for a novel and well-written article. It’s nice to see a fresh approach to an endlessly tired debate. The shooting at Virginia Tech is unquestionably a horrible tragedy — I don’t think anyone disagrees with this. As usual, when something terrible and completely out of our control happens, the public cries out for “something” to be done. They don’t want to believe that this suffering has been in vain. It’s easy to point the finger at guns — they’re inanimate objects, and won’t be offended or hire a lawyer to defend themselves.

As other posters have mentioned, the regulations to prevent this tragedy were already in place. Beyond that, the sad truth of the matter is that this horrific event is yet another painfully clear illustration of the lesson: Make guns illegal, and the only ones holding guns will be the criminals. This isn’t a catchy phrase, and it’s not over-simplification. Guns were not allowed on the Virginia Tech campus, and the only person at this massacre with a gun was the shooter. (Please don’t refer to him by name — he does not deserve immortality for this.)

Pandora’s box has already been opened in this country, and all the legislation in the world can’t put those guns back in the box. Advocates of gun control argue that limiting our freedom by banning guns could save precious lives. Banning guns does not make them magically wink out of existence! The shooter had a plan and was hell-bent on executing it. He would have found a way to get a gun, no matter how many obstacles he faced. Killers aren’t concerned with breaking the law. The truly heart-breaking aspect of this story is the loss of those precious lives that might have been saved if someone could have stopped him sooner.

As for this article, the author did not say that Pepsi was the only substitute for Coke, and he did not say a car bomb was the only substitute for guns. No one has suggested banning locks and chains, but they were integral to the killer’s plans. He could have just as easily chained those same doors and slaughtered people with a beautifully crafted antique samurai sword, or a kitchen knife. The victims inside would have been just as defenseless, and the killer wouldn’t have needed to reload. If car bombs seem too exotic, how about carbon monoxide, ammonia and bleach, or good ole’ arson? Hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, and dynamite too imprecise? Use a crossbow or a chainsaw. Poison darts, battery acid, baseball bats, hand axes, bows and arrows, flamethrowers, …flails? Yes, our culture has glorified guns, and yes, they can kill very efficiently. Take them away, and killers will fall back on other methods, and develop whole new ones. Terrible ones. Tell me again how making guns illegal will be helpful? If we want to stop killers from killing, why don’t we just make MURDER illegal? Oh, that’s right… it already is.

Kristian Joensen May 4, 2007 at 9:51 am

Lisa M, that is a very nice post. Although you seem to know a disturbingly many ways to kill people ;)

Roberto Di Scipio May 6, 2007 at 6:32 pm


I agree with the logic of the article but gun control is something I’ve been struggling with (long before the Cho incident.)

It is true that substitutes exist but we do draw the line somewhere, don’t we ? If we use the same logic of substitutes then surely hand grenades should be available to those who can purchase guns. What about ‘super’ grenades (those a lot more powerful than the old WWII style) ? I sure as hell don’t want people to be able to buy those.

It can be taken further of course, from grenades to larger and larger bombs.

So my question is, where do Austrians draw the line ?

Deb May 8, 2007 at 2:38 pm

I beg to differ. As I observed, many readers have compared guns with cars and opined that since cars can be used to make similar if not more damage, based on the same reasoning- should they be banned as well? No absolutely not. The car has a completely different purpose – to transport. It can also be used to kill, but again that is not its purpose. It does have a positive purpose for the common man – transportation. Like a lethal dose of sleeping pills can kill a person, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be banned. The sleeping pill has a different purpose. Unlike heroin for example which (to my knowledge, I may be wrong but I am trying to make a point here) only has a negative consequence and therefore is banned. Or an anvil that can be dropped on someone’s head to commit murder does not necessarily define the role of the anvil. To the common person, the gun has only one sole purpose – to kill. If it had a positive purpose then gun control could be debated. Now if you argue that guns can be used in sporting activities, yes but they can use different projectiles that suit just that purpose and are non-lethal. Or maybe the ammunition could only be acquired inside a shooting range or some similarly safe arrangement. Some people talk about self defense. I don’t see any reason for handing guns to anyone just for that sake. We maintain a force of well trained professionals to defend our ‘civilized’ society. And they are responsible for enforcing and upholding the law of the land. Just because a person was attacked by some antisocial and was defenseless and there was no policeman to help doesn’t mean that if that person was given a gun would have been able to protect himself/herself. And moreover does this mean that because of 9/11 every inhabitant of New York City be given the right to maintain an arsenal of anti-aircraft missiles for self defense? This is absolutely baseless and ridiculous.

It is common sense that we exercise little control over acts of nature. Who likes tornados and earthquakes, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t happen. They are acts of nature. Sick people like Cho are also acts of nature and they are going to be born. But the aim is not to make it easy for the likes of Cho to achieve their objective. The point is to defend the good people from such acts of nature and make it as hard as we can for such sick people to achieve their objective. And gun control will definitely be a step in the right direction.

Tom Rapheal May 9, 2007 at 8:54 pm

Deb, You state that we have a large, well trained force of professionals to defend us. However they are terrible at it. People are murdered everyday in a varity of ways. Banning guns would have no effect on the ability of criminals to acess guns witness to the immpossiblity of stopping drug trade

Matt May 17, 2007 at 5:53 am

Deb, The issue of gun control and the fact that the states employ police officers are two different issues. The “well trained professionals” that you talk about can only sporadically prevent murder. Their main responsibilities are marking around the dead body with tape and trying to bring the perp to justice. Whether you like it or not, personal defense is pretty much up to the person.

George June 14, 2007 at 2:43 pm

Fact is: the US has one of the highest gun density and, at the same time, one of the highest death rate due to guns. Therefore I doubt that the concept of self defense with guns is efficient.

Norris Hall June 29, 2008 at 2:46 am

The problem I have with some gun rights advocates is their “purist” approach to any attempts to regulate firearms.
When they oppose trigger locks on guns that could prevent children from accidents, they appear to me to be more concerned with their rights rather than people’s lives..
They must reason that if you give one inch of ground you open the floodgates to complete and total gun control. So hold the line on everything.
Personally I think the issue of gun control and gun rights should be based on what’s best for the country…not what the Supreme Court “thinks” the second amendment meant 200 years ago.
Let’s face it, if took our cues from the founding father’s, we’d still have African slaves working for us.

guns are tools not killers February 11, 2009 at 10:07 am

It has now been 12 months since gun owners in Australia were forced by new law to surrender 640,381 personal firearms to be destroyed by their own government, a program costing Australia taxpayers more
than $500 million dollars. The first year results are now in:

List of 7 items:

1. Australia-wide, homicides are up 3.2 percent

2. Australia-wide, assaults are up 8.6 percent

3. Australia-wide, armed robberies are up 44 percent (yes, 44 percent)!

4. In the state of Victoria alone, homicides with firearms are now up 300 percent. Note that while the law-abiding citizens turned them in, the criminals did not, and criminals still possess their guns!

5. While figures over the previous 25 years showed a steady decrease in armed robbery with firearms, this has changed drastically upward in the past 12 months, since criminals now are guaranteed that their prey is unarmed.

6. There has also been a dramatic increase in break- ins and assaults of the ELDERLY.

7. Australian politicians are at a loss to explain how public safety has decreased, after such monumental effort and expense was expended in successfully ridding Australian society of guns. The Australian experience and the other historical facts above prove it. You won’t see this data on the US evening news, or hear politicians disseminating this information.
Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws adversely affect only the law-abiding citizens. Take note my fellow Americans, before it’s too late! The next time someone talks in favor of gun control, please remind them of this history lesson.
With guns, we are ‘citizens’.
Without them, we are ‘subjects’.
During WWII the Japanese decided not to invade America because they knew most Americans were ARMED!
If you value your freedom, Please spread this anti-gun control message to all of your friends.

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