The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law (1998).
Posted: 2 Jul 1997
This is a discussion for economists, lawyers, and policy makers, concerning issues that arise in the debate over appropriate gun control. Guns are more closely regulated than most other consumer products because of the hazard they pose to their owners and others. These regulations are controversial because private ownership of guns is seen by some as promoting the public interest by deterring crime and even would-be tyrants, in addition to the perceived personal benefits of gun ownership. The economics framework is broader than that provided by either criminology or public health, and offers a useful structure for the debate and a basis for making some predictions about the effects of various controls. Among other topics we suggest how the costs and benefits of control measures depend on initial conditions with respect to violence rates and prevalence of gun ownership. Great Britain and the US form an interesting contrast, since they have similar rates of criminal violence but vastly different rates of gun ownership. A ban on handgun ownership of the sort recently imposed in Great Britain may with little cost serve to prevent the emergence of an arms race there. The situation is different in the US, where the cost would be greater and there is more potential for black-market activity to undercut the benefits of such a ban. But even in the gun-rich environment of the US, regulating the production, exchange, and possession of firearms is a potentially beneficial supplement to ex post criminal sanctions for curtailing public costs.
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation