Say no to ‘back-door’ gun control

A gun is not inherently dangerous. In fact, given their association with lower crime rates, is it fair to say they're inherently safety-enhancing

Are guns inherently dangerous?
Daniel J. Mitchell
On 26 June 2013 10:41

If a bad person robs a bank and then uses a Chevrolet to make his getaway, do we blame General Motors? Of course not.

If a pilot suffers some sort of medical incident, loses control of her plane, and injures people on the ground during the crash, do we blame Cessna? No, that would be silly.

If a con artist tricks a consumer into sending money, do we blame the bank where the fraudster has an account? Logically, the answer is no, but thanks to money laundering laws, the government actually does expect banks to know if customers are misbehaving. But that’s why experts think those laws are absurdly unworkable and expensive.

I’m asking these rhetorical questions because a couple of professors, in a New York Times op-ed, claim that gun manufacturers and gun owners should be subject to special taxes. Why? Well, because some people deliberately or accidentally cause damage with guns.

Gun manufacturers have gone to great lengths to avoid any moral responsibility or legal accountability for the social costs of gun violence… But there is a simple and direct way to make them accountable for the harm their products cause. For every gun sold, those who manufacture or import it should pay a tax. The money should then be used to create a compensation fund for innocent victims of gun violence.

They justify their plan with economics. Or, to be more accurate, they use economic terminology to sell their scheme.

This proposal is based on a fundamentally conservative principle — that those who cause injury should be made to “internalize” the cost of their activity by paying for it. …it makes sense to tax gun manufacturers directly. The result would be that those who derive a benefit from guns — for hunting, target practice, self-defense or simply for collecting — would shoulder some of the social costs of their choice as manufacturers pass along the cost of the tax to them.

Such a tax might also exert at least some economic pressure on manufacturers to market especially lethal guns less aggressively, or to implement safer gun technologies, like “smart guns” that could be used only by the registered owner. Right now, they have no such incentive — they’re immune from most lawsuits, and guns are expressly exempt from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is supposed to protect the public from unreasonable risks from consumer products.

There are lots of reasons why I disagree with this column, but my main objection – as suggested by the rhetorical questions above – is that the professors want to improperly redistribute risk and blame.

A gun is not inherently dangerous. Indeed, gun ownership is associated with lower crime rates, so it’s more accurate to say they are inherently safety-enhancing. Cops, for instance, overwhelmingly think gun control is either futile or counterproductive.

That being said, what’s the best way to deal with those individuals who deliberately or accidentally use guns in an unsafe manner? The answer is simple. There should be criminal penalties imposed on those who engage in deliberate wrongdoing and we should rely on insurance and/or the tort system (properly focused) for accidental misuse.

Will that system be perfect? Of course not. Criminals will always exist. All we can do is to make crime less attractive. And accidents will always happen, even if we have a good system of insurance and torts.

Let’s conclude with a statement of the obvious. I’m 99 percent certain that the professors are completely unserious about modifying how we insure against gun-related damage. They’re simply using the terminology to impose a policy that is best characterized as back-door gun control.

Frankly, I’m tired of statists, most of whom (like Rosie O’Donnell) live very comfortable lives in safe neighborhoods, trying to tell the rest of us how to live.

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