Saturday, January 23, 2016

Gun Laws to Reduce Mass Murders Require Political Courage

Vijay K. Mathur

Mass murders have become such a part of life in the United States that we all go through the routine of feeling sad, comforting the families, lighting candles, and bringing flowers to the murder site.  However, Americans are so entrenched in preserving the status quo, thanks to NRA, that many politicians refuse to support some realistic cost effective solutions, such as stricter regulations of firearms sales to reduce mass murders.  This apathy has reached a point that even researchers are shying away from the topic of gun violence research.

 FBI classifies killings as mass murders when there are 4 or more victims. William Krause and Daniel Richardson of Congressional Research Service (CRS) provide some evidence on mass murders in a paper, July 30, 2015.  From 1999 to 2013 there were 317 mass shooting incidents, where 1554 people were killed and 441 wounded.  In addition, since 1990, days between mass shootings have been decreasing.  

An investigation on mass murders by Mark Follman of Mother Jones (, Updated December 3, 2015, found that during 1982-2012, of the 143 guns used 99 of them were semiautomatic and rifles, and more than three-fourths were obtained legally. According to CRS, a significant number of mass murderers have mental problems.  Hence, facts show that mass murders are rising with greater frequency, high-powered weapons are the favorite tools in most shootings and a significant number of shooters have mental problems. 

 We cannot restrict the constitutional right to bear arms affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2008.  However, the Second Amendment of the Constitution or the Supreme Court ruling in 2008 did not support that right to be unlimited (  Writing for the majority conservative Justice Antonin Scalia stated, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…” It is “…not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and whatever purpose.”   The majority report also supported prohibition of “dangerous and unusual weapons”, and even carrying of concealed weapons.

 A study of 27 developed countries including US, in The American Journal of Medicine, October 2013, found that gun ownership rate is an independent predictor of firearm-related deaths.  Mark Duggan obtained similar results in an academic paper, “ More Guns, More Crimes”, Journal of Political Economy, October 2001.

Hence, it makes sense to pass laws that regulate purchases of all types of guns and high capacity magazines (without any loopholes), supplemented by requiring universal nation-wide background checks (without any loopholes), high tax rates on all types of guns and magazines and personalized gun technology.  This would require political courage despite NRA’s lobbyists.

Since different types of guns are substitutes, Tomas Philipson and Richard Posner argued for restricting ammunition as an effective strategy to curb the use of guns in their research for The Journal of Law and Economics, October 1996.  However, in addition to ammunition regulation, a proportionate tax on all guns would avoid the substitution problem.  Increase in price due to the tax would decrease demand for guns.  For example, Douglas Bice and David Hamley, The Journal of Law and Economics, April 2002, found that a 10% increase in the price of handguns reduces demand 20% to 30%.

What about millions of guns that are already in circulation?  Since I am advocating for federal guns and ammunitions regulations, I propose that the federal government could provide incentive of income tax credits, with a 5 year window, to those who come forward to register their guns and ammunitions and go through background checks.

Fear-mongering statements, often made by NRA and other opponents of any firearms regulations, defy simple logic.  We all have heard the claim that guns do not kill people but people kill people.  Precisely due to this reason, I propose nation-wide universal firearms regulations and background checks.  These regulations are meant to discourage those people who are prone to violent behavior and are mentally incapacitated from owning guns and ammunitions.  The argument for guns for self-defense cannot justify possession of sophisticated weapons with high kill factor and range accuracy, and high capacity magazines.  Finally, the argument that gun regulations would deny guns to lawful people and not outlaws is patently illogical.  The purpose of national universal guns and ammunitions regulations (without loopholes) is exactly to deny guns and ammunition to outlaws.        

Law-abiding citizens have a vested interest to make the logical choice to support common sense firearms and bullet magazine regulations and to elect politicians who have the courage to defy lobbyists to support their cause.   Such laws and regulations would protect the right to bear arms while at the same time would tend to reduce murders, suicides, familicides (killing of family members) and mass murders, thus promoting freedom from fear in daily lives of Americans.

Mathur is former chairman and professor of economics and now professor emeritus, Department of Economics, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. He resides in Ogden , Utah.

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