All entries for Monday 25 July 2005

July 25, 2005

Gun Crime and Gun Ownership

News this week that gun crime in the UK is up 6% from last year coincided with my discovery of an essay by entitled “The False Promise of Gun Control” by Daniel Polsby (found via Capital Freedom ). I’ll summarise the main point of the essay below.

Polsby states that taxes on firearms, detailed background checks and regulations on what/when weapons can be used raise the cost ownership. Policymakers see this as a success given that cost affects willingness to own a weapon. One can class potential owners as criminals, or those with no criminal intent and the impact of higher costs differs between groups. Increasing the cost of ownership has a much greater negative impact on ownership amongst non-criminals than criminals. After all, the latter group makes the purchase with intent to utilise the weapon, while the former have little or no active use for it. The proportion of guns held by criminals therefore increases.

A gun’s effectiveness is partially due to the scarcity of people carrying one. With fewer non-criminals with a gun for protection a criminal has much less to fear. The criminal is less likely to run into trouble when attempting to steal/attack a random member of the public and is less likely to meet resistance from surrounding observers. The more guns there are in circulation, the greater the risk associated with attempted theft and assault.
Total prohibition of gun ownership may yield results worse than those of high taxation and regulation. Ownership amongst non criminals falls to zero whilst criminals continue to access weapons through illicit markets.

The essay goes on to discuss empirical evidence suggesting that the link between crime and gun ownership in US states and across the world is far from clear. The continued debate over the issue is a testament to the ambiguous effect. Given this uncertainty, policymakers should be wary of seeing lower gun ownership as the obvious solution to gun crime.

Read Daniel Polsby’s essay here.

Reducing gun ownership is the intuitive answer to the problems faced. As always, the unseen consequences of policy receive little attention: in this case, the higher incentives for criminals to obtain and use weapons against the unarmed majority.

Having a weapon in the house will inevitably lead to some fatalities as parties get caught up in domestic arguments. There’s also the potential for seemingly innocent disagreements between strangers to escalate into something more serious. In this light, lower gun ownership saves lives. However, claiming particular lives will be saved isn’t sufficient justification for prohibition given that overall rates could well remain the same, or even increase due to adverse incentives.

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