Home > Uncategorized > Gun Control and Incentives

Gun Control and Incentives

The news today brings yet another tragic story of a shooting in a U. S. school. What usually follows such a terrible event is a call by some people for gun control which supporters think will reduce gun violence. To an economist, these claims seem strange because economics, if it is about anything at all, is about the effects of incentives on people’s behavior. Research in economics is almost always a form of test for the effects of incentives. Gun control does not change incentives and so it would seem to an economist that gun control would have no effect on the desire of people to use guns for legal and/or illegal actions. Interestingly, there is evidence on the likely effects of gun control and that evidence is the U.S. experience with Prohibition.

In 1919, the U.S. passed a constitutional amendment effectively setting the legal supply of alcoholic beverages to zero. The federal government then set about prosecuting anyone violating this restriction but clearly the amendment did not reduce the demand for alcoholic beverages to zero. What the amendment did was create a supply of illegal alcoholic beverages provided by underworld figures and so the market for alcohol continued to exist although it may have been at somewhat reduced levels of sales. Prohibition did not change the incentives faced by people wishing to consume alcoholic beverages and so they continued to demand these beverages and a supply side of the market was created to meet that demand. Eventually in 1933, Prohibition was repealed so a legal supply of alcoholic beverages was restored.

To an economist, the way to reduce gun violence is to change the incentives faced by individuals who carry out violent acts using guns. There should be some evidence out there which might tell us the effects of incentives on gun use. If I can find some I will report it in a future post.

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Economics One

A blog by John B. Taylor

The Grumpy Economist

One economist's views on economic policy.

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