(For Memorial Day – a favorite from the LFG archive.)
It was another splendid morning in America – as folks woke up to the news that yet another child had gloriously sacrificed her 9 year-old life for other peoples’ enjoyment of their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Gabby Giffords took time out of her busy skeet-shooting and armadillo-hunting schedule to advocate for more stringent background checks. Surely, Madison would weep for joy at all his law had engendered….
There’s a stark asymmetry: that the people who ENJOY the right to keep and bear arms are rarely the same people who PAY the cost of their enjoyment. And so I began a-wondering: would gun manufacturers., sellers, buyers and owners make different decisions if they had to absorb the full cost of their actions? At the extreme, one might have a law that prescribed the death penalty for a gun owner whose weapon caused the death of another person, no matter if he or someone else pulled the trigger. Yeah, that’ll never happen, but….
What if lawmakers (1) make the parties to gun transactions (manufacturer, buyer, seller, owner) strictly liable for all damages the gun causes; (2) and require the parties to obtain insurance to cover prospective losses.
Economically, the market for guns is rife with negative externalities that keep prices artificially low. Forcing market participants to absorb the full costs of their decisions will only improve market efficiency. Conservatives will love it, because, y’know, they’re all about free enterprise – and surely it will pain them to recognize that gun owners, effectively, are welfare moochers, leaving a tab for society to pick up.
An employed middle-income 40something with a clean record might pay a pittance to insure a shotgun or hunting rifle that’s kept in a safe. A gun shop owner will be happy to have him as a customer. But an unemployed 20something male might pay a small fortune to insure a 12-in-the-clip 9mm that he plans to keep alternately in his glove compartment and night stand. Shop owners, seeking to control their premiums, might be very careful about who they sell to. And of course, a careless shop owner might find himself unable to obtain affordable insurance. These are all positive effects.
The present interpretation of the 2nd amendment is not likely to survive another Democratic presidential term. But even assuming that we have to operate within that stricture, it should be clear that the 2nd amendment does NOT require that guns be free. Requiring that gun sellers and owners bear the full cost of their actions does NOT technically increase the cost of selling and owning guns – it simply reallocates the cost onto the parties themselves, and off of society.