Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Efficacy of Gun Laws is Depressing, But Not Hopeless

I keep trying to write a post on what an evidence-based approach to gun control would look like. But as Ezra points out, the whole thing is very depressing. Very few proposals to regulate gun ownership more tightly would have stopped Adam Lanza, and the CDC couldn't find any evidence linking changes in gun laws to lower crime rates. But I think Ezra's suffering from a failure of imagination when he says that banning clips a second time wouldn't accomplish anything.

There's one  surefire way to keep
items like thisSureFire high capacity
magazine from being used in
another mass shooting;
buy them all back from their
current owners.
If you want to ban semi-automatic long guns and high-capacity clips, you have to do what Australia did: ban the production of these items and buy back all of the existing ones. It would cost about $4 billion and take about two years. Looking at the evidence from the Australia assault-weapons ban and buyback, the rate of firearm-related deaths dropped by about 1 per 100,000 persons. In the US, that would mean saving roughly 3,000 lives per year. A one-time expense of $4B to save that many lives is a no-brainer. In fact, even if taking all the military-style weapons off the streets only saved 100 lives per year, since the expense is a one-shot deal, the buyback would be "cost-effective" from an actuarial perspective.

Now, we have to decide whether we want to do this. Military-style, semiautomatic long guns (rifles and shotguns) make up 1-2% of the guns in America. There are tens of millions of high capacity clips. Are we willing to say that, no, such a weapon has no hunting or home defense purpose, you should be able to get by with a semiautomatic pistol holding ten rounds, or a rifle/shotgun that isn't semiautomatic? Australians were willing to make that statementin the wake of a mass shooting. Perhaps we will do the same.

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