do those prone to gun control have answers?


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alan
May 4, 2007, 03:42 PM
From: Mises Daily Article <articles@mises.org>
Subject: Why Economists Tend to Oppose Gun Control Laws
Date: May 2, 2007 9:55 AM

Why Economists Tend to Oppose Gun Control Laws
By Scott A. Kjar
Posted on 5/2/2007
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After the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, many well-intentioned people all over the country have been calling for increased gun control laws. However, economists tend to oppose gun control laws, since such laws generally pay no attention to basic economic issues.

Let's start with the relationship between means and ends. The shooter had his ends: he wanted to kill many people, and he wanted it to be visible and spectacular. He also had his means: guns and bullets. He engaged in forward-looking behavior: he purchased the guns, bullets, chains, locks, and video equipment well in advance. He taped himself in advance explaining what he was going to do and why he was going to do it.

Now let's consider gun control. 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.

As Mises.org readers know, in economics, we discuss the idea of substitutes. These are goods that can be used to replace each other such as Coke vs. Pepsi, contact lenses vs. eyeglasses, Macs vs. PCs. When a person has ends, a person can select among different means to achieve those ends. These different means are substitutes.

Cho wanted to kill many people, and he wanted it to be visible and spectacular. To that end, he purchases guns, bullets, chains, and locks (to prevent survivors from escaping). Would gun control have prevented this? Or would Cho — who apparently planned this attack for weeks, based on the fact that he acquired guns, bullets, chains, and locks for weeks — have used substitute goods?

What would Cho's substitutes have been? What others means are there by which he could engage in mass murder? Well, he could have purchased a knife, although that is probably a weak substitute for guns and bullets in achieving his ends. He has to be right next to his victim, and he might be defeated in personal combat by another person. Likewise, he could not kill a lot of people in the same time frame, and it would not be as spectacular.

Perhaps he could have resorted to convincing people to engage in mass suicide, as Rev. Jim Jones did at Jonestown, or Heaven's Gate cult leader Marshall Herff Applewhite did in California. However, since Cho was apparently a non-charismatic loner, this substitute would not likely have been very effective as a means to his end of mass murder.

Consider instead, though, the news we see every day from Iraq and Afghanistan. On the day this was written, a moving car bomb killed 19 and wounded 35 in a restaurant. Meanwhile, a parked car bomb killed several more. That is the sort of visible and spectacular mass destruction that Cho desired, and it is not greatly difficult to produce a car bomb. Clearly, a car bomb is a substitute means to achieving Cho's end of a visible and spectacular killing of many students. In fact, it is possible that Cho might even have been more effective with such a means. After all, student traffic flows are very predictable, being based on when classes begin and end. Had Cho built a bomb, he could have detonated it at a time and place where hundreds of students might be within the blast radius.

In fact, we see car bombings in the news almost every day, but mass shootings are so rare that we remember them all. We remember the Columbine shooting, and we will remember the Virginia Tech shooting. We remember 9/11 and we remember Pearl Harbor. Why do we remember these things? Because they are so rare! However, we don't remember how many people were killed in Iraq this week, or last week, or the week before. Why not? Because there are so many car bombings that we are nearly immune to news of them. Mass shootings are extremely rare, which makes them news.

So however much some people might yearn for gun control, it seems unlikely that it would have prevented Cho from achieving his ends. He had substitutes available, he had more than one means available to achieve his ends, and he plotted long enough to hit upon other means — especially since those other means are described in detail on TV, in the newspapers, and on the internet every day.

How do we know what stuff is worth? $15

Economists recognize the relationship between means and ends, including the role played by substitutes. Economists understand that when government restricts one market, consumers merely move into another market, and when government tries to foreclose one means, individuals will simply shift into other means to achieve the same ends.

However horrendous we might find the mass shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other places, the fact is that when disaffected people start planning mass mayhem, the lack of a gun will not stop them. The 1927 Bath Township School bombing, in which 45 people were killed by a school board member, shows that guns are neither necessary nor sufficient for the commission of mass murder at schools.

Economists call for a re-thinking of the issue using economic reasoning. As Henry Hazlitt pointed out in his great book Economics in One Lesson, good analysis requires people to look past the obvious and short-term effects on some people, and to focus on the longer-term effects to all people. After all, those longer-term economic realities will arise regardless of the good intentions of people who call for market restrictions.

____________________________
Scott A. Kjar teaches economics at Baldwin-Wallace College. Send him mail. Comment on the blog.

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Cliff47
May 4, 2007, 03:49 PM
When my Grandfather was teaching my generation abut firearms, he defined gun control as "Using both hands, and thinking before you put your finger on the trigger, twice". That whirring sound in the background is him turning over in his grave.

Davo
May 4, 2007, 03:52 PM
If your trying to use logic, it has no place with anti's. Imagine if the author of this article made it on The View, or Oprah.

MinnMooney
May 4, 2007, 04:18 PM
I could imagine if the author showed up on "The View" that he'd be ambushed by.......... what's the fat, big-mouths' name..... Oh, yeah, Rosie (what an UN-fitting name for her!) just like she ambushed Tom Selleck on her short-lived TV talk show.

heypete
May 4, 2007, 06:51 PM
Intriguing. That's one of the points I bring up, but the Mises folks were able to express the point far more eloquently than I've been able to.

migoi
May 4, 2007, 07:33 PM
Cho could have resorted to gasoline (Happy Land Social Club - 84 dead) or fuel and fertilizer (OKC bombing - 168 dead).

Odd thing though.. I'm still able to purchase the ingredients used in both of those mass murders in absolutely untraceable ways. Where's the gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes to outlaw the instruments used then?

migoi

Zundfolge
May 4, 2007, 08:09 PM
Cho wanted to kill many people, and he wanted it to be visible and spectacular. To that end, he purchases guns, bullets, chains, and locks (to prevent survivors from escaping). Would gun control have prevented this? Or would Cho — who apparently planned this attack for weeks, based on the fact that he acquired guns, bullets, chains, and locks for weeks — have used substitute goods?
In addition, the other flaw in the gun controller's thinking is that the mere act of making something illegal also makes it harder (or impossible) to acquire.

In reality, if Cho couldn't legally procure firearms, he would turn to the black market for his guns (and if a semi automatic handgun is just as illegal as a full auto AK47, then he'd likely purchase the AK instead of the handgun, so the death toll could have been larger and could have included body armor wearing cops).

Making an item illegal doesn't eliminate the demand for it, it just shifts the supply of that demand from the open market to the black market. As we've seen with drugs, anyone with a little cash, a little motivation and basic common sense could figure out how to acquire illegal drugs almost as easily (if not just as easily) as walking into a Walgreen's and buying drugs off the shelf.

Furthermore, Walgreen's competes for customers with its competition by offering better prices, better service or more cleaver marketing ... black marketeers compete for customers by shooting at each other (often in public places populated with innocent people).

Dysfunctional Individual
May 4, 2007, 08:37 PM
Unfortunately, this type of argument can also be used against gun rights: If his potential victims were armed and Cho knew it, he might have resorted to a bomb or another alternate means of causing more mayhem.

RPCVYemen
May 4, 2007, 09:19 PM
Do those prone to gun control have answers?

Why would you ask that question here? Do think posting that article on THR is a good test of its mettle?

Mike

lamazza
May 4, 2007, 10:23 PM
Do those prone to gun control have answers?
Of course not! The anti's do not use logic to oppose anything -they use feelings and irrational statements.
If guns were banned and confiscated, and the antis(unrealistically) confiscated 80% of them there would still be around 20 million(conservative estimate) left in circulation.

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