By Michael Olenick, a research fellow at INSEAD
Thursday December 14 marks the five-year mark since the massacre at Sandy Hook when gun fanatic Adam Lanza murdered twenty first graders, six school staff members, his mother, then himself. We’ve since watched 58 people lose their lives in Las Vegas, 49 at the Pulse nightclub, 25 at Suntherland Springs, and 14 in San Bernardino. The rivers of blood grow and flow but nothing changes.
Thanks to a modern reinterpretation of the Second Amendment in the 2008 Heller decision, there are limits to what can be done legally on gun control. Before Heller gun rights were reserved for well-regulated state militias (read: armed thugs tasked with retrieving escaped slaves). But a five-member majority of the Supreme Court, a group of activist “conservative” judges, magically found a personal right to gun ownership for the first time in over two centuries. No lobby is stronger than the NRA so traditional political options are ruled out. But there might be a solution by addressing the problem economically.
I’ve argued for ages that US gun enthusiasts cause an enormous cost that is externalized to everybody else.
It’s time for gun fans to pay their own way, to stop cost shifting the burden of their hobby onto survivors and the general public. As one gun owner indignantly wrote after a recent slaughter “Why should I pay for the cost of criminals?” My answer: “Why should I?” Why should anybody who does not buy into the notion that guns should be freely available – the root cause of the carnage – pay for those who do believe this?
Backing up, let’s briefly review the costs of gun damage. First are the immediate medical costs. If the injured is insured, then everybody in their insurance pool pays for the fun of guns. If they are uninsured, costs rise and everybody involuntarily pitches in.
Next are the costs to employers and the injured; social safety programs or disability insurance might help: more subsidies. Lowered earning power, dysfunction in the family and relationships, higher police costs and lowered property values in high crime areas: line items on the bill are endless.
Cost estimates for gun violence, including lost wages, vary wildly. Low end estimates are $45 billion per year; higher end estimates are $229 billion per year. Since the lower end costs do not include extra policing or pain and suffering for family members I’ll split the difference but on the low side: $100 billion per year. That means each and every one of America’s 323 million pays an average of $309.60 per year thanks to gun mania.
Gun owners talk about the “cost of freedom” – being suckered into the false narrative that gun ownership somehow equates to liberty – but they’re consistently unwilling to shoulder that cost alone.
First, it’s time to admit this “freedom and liberty” theory is delusional. Get real, gun owners: you are not going to use your guns in a government shootout. If you do, you will be seen as deranged criminals, not heroes. I have yet to find a gun owner who is willing to explicitly state that their version of “protecting liberty” is an imaginary right to violently overthrow the government. They imply it – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – but nobody will come out and say it.
And if you were to take up this battle with your precious guns,you would lose. Gunmen are guaranteed to be defeated by police who have access to more guns, helicopters, tear gas, sound cannons, tanks, flamethrowers, and other weapons.
I’ve talked about a gun and ammunition tax so gun owners pay the full freight for their fun. But gun fanatics argue against a registry. Ignoring that the vast majority of countries that allow private weapon ownership require registration we’ll take this at face value: no registries. But there’s a fine solution: mandatory insurance at the point of sale.
Every gun and every bullet will come with gun insurance, automatically bundled with the purchase.
Like workers compensation gun violence victims would automatically collect from a mega-pool funded entirely by gun insurance. No more forcing everybody’s health premiums up due to gun violence payouts: only gun owners pay. Disability and lost wage claims due to gun injuries? Paid for by people who are into guns. Unpaid medical bills for victims of gun violence due to no insurance which drive up hospital costs for everybody; the gun insurance pool pays 100%, no questions asked. More police required in areas of unusually high gun violence: let the pool pay.
None of this infringes on the right to own guns: they just have to pay the cost. Free speech does not mean free paper or free internet access. Similarly, freedom to own guns is not an entitlement to a massive economic subsidy, which is the case now.
This proposal allows guns, ammunition and sales tax to all be tied together into a tidy package. Mechanisms, including enforcement, would work just like sales tax for any other purchase. People who sell guns or ammunition without the insurance will be treated like people who sell products but do not collect sales tax. All Point of Sale (POS) systems already support the automated collection of additional funds and, even for state’s that do not have sales tax, they still use the computer systems everybody else does enabling its collection.
Gun owners who prove they have the right insurance can skip the insurance that gun sellers would be required to attach, enabling private marketplaces.
Given the nature of gun violence there would need to be a centralized pool to payout claims. This would presumably be grouped by risk category, much like auto insurance. If the gun or bullet type that caused the injury is known it would be a claim against that class of weapons. AR-15/Bushmaster style rifles would carry one cost, depending on the injuries they cause, whereas bespoke hunting rifles could carry a different, presumably lower cost. Let the weapon manufacturers and insurance companies work out the various risk categories: they understand their products best.
The hypocrisy from libertarians who argue against public subsidies for everything besides gun subsidies is staggering. Either you are a libertarian who is against subsides, and believe you should carry the cost of an unfettered right to own weapons, or you are not.
Nobody argues against mandatory auto insurance and the gun fanatics do not hesitate to highlight, correctly, that automobiles cause more annual deaths than guns. They fail to note that automobiles have exponentially more utility value and are highly regulated, requiring licensure, insurance, and strict compliance with safety rules. They also ignore that gun deaths were projected to exceed deaths by car in 2016, and probably will in the not-too-distant future.
The graves of the Sandy Hook victims are presumably well manicured; the school was razed to the ground and a new building unveiled in July 2016. But the memories for the survivors that were there, and everybody else, can and should never be erased. We can’t take the guns but we can at least make sure the bullets do not come with a bill for victims of gun violence.