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The Economics of Guns

Threatening to ban or severely control guns results in increasing sales as gun lovers run out to buy "while they can."


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My father kept a pistol in his bedside table. While I knew as a child it could kill, I handled it privately on several occasions. He never knew. My childhood fascination led me to ban all guns in my house when I had children. The risk was too great and still is; 89 percent of all accidental shootings involving children are at home with no parent present.

What is a gun? 

Economically, it's a tool we use to interact with our environment to survive and thrive. It is used for hunting, defending and assaulting. Guns made our economic lives more efficient and effective. While spears and boomerangs have been around for millennia, "firearms" first showed up in the  Ming Dynasty about 650 years ago after the Chinese invented gunpowder. As guns became more accurate at greater distances and capable of repeated discharge in the 1800s, the tool changed the dynamics of battles – whether domestic, with wildlife or in war. The pistol became the weapon of choice in dueling. The precision created in hunting occurred simultaneously to our decreasing reliance on hunting for sustenance, thanks to agriculture and trains. Despite the diminishing economic need to hunt, the new technology persisted via sport and is ingrained in our culture.

The gun debate needs to focus on reality. 

Pew Research found in 2013 that only 12 percent of Americans realize gun violence has decreased in the last two decades. Given this, advocates for gun control should remember reverse psychology. Threatening to ban or severely control guns results in increasing sales as gun lovers run out to buy "while they can." Despite former President Obama's moderation on the issue, gun sales still doubled during his administration.

The 100 percent increase of gun sales from 2008 to 2018 did not result in an increase in gun deaths. In fact, non-suicide deaths remained constant; although there has been a noticeable rise in the last two years. But even with these increases, the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people is down by almost 20 percent since 1993. The fastest growth in gun sales is for rifles, even though hunting is decreasing. Only one-third of all American households have a gun, and the growth in sales is primarily related to collecting or accumulating guns by existing gun owners. Owners bear the greatest risk in association with guns. When guns are accessible in a household, the risk of suicide triples, and the risk of other gun deaths doubles. Sixth-three percent of all gun deaths are suicide. While Colorado has a slightly lower rate for all gun deaths, the state does have a slightly higher rate for suicide, officer shootings of suspects and unintentional shootings. 

Research I conducted 20 years ago on juvenile justice found that the rate of violence has remained relatively constant over the years, but the lethality of violence has grown dramatically. In most cultures, the highest rate of violence occurs among males under the age of 25. Within this context, guns balance power. Unfortunately, as potential assaulters are more lethal, the wise defender will also be more lethal. That includes victims of domestic violence, bullied kids at school, societal misfits and citizens fearing tyranny.

The fundamental problem is that while access to guns increases the lethality of violence, the fear of being victimized and concerns over political tyranny are so ingrained in American culture that gun rights have become sacred. There is no point in pushing back as it only elevates the reverence for guns.

Equality sacred for most Americans is the future of our children. What we need to reduce is our cultural predisposition toward violence – whether innate or socially enhanced. And while being more preemptive in identifying potential violent behavior is desirable, we don't need mandates to arm teachers nor do we need the high expense of armed security when we already cannot adequately fund education.

Even if we taxed guns and ammunition to pay for school security like we do with wildlife conservation, I question whether that will reduce violence or simply remind our children of the need for more guns. This is where I appreciate the #MeToo movement and the youth of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as they deal with the imbalance of power they confront. Nonviolent, persistent protests demanding respect, even when staring down the barrel of tyranny or at machismo imperatives, is what makes us human and gives me faith.

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Tom Binnings

Tom Binnings is a senior partner at Summit Economics in Colorado Springs. He has more than 30 years of experience in project management, economic and market research, real estate development, business analytics and strategic planning. He can be reached at (719) 471-0000 or tbinnings@comcast.net.

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