Gun Culture and Market Failure

  • In 2008-2009, there were 39 fatal injuries from crimes involving firearms in England and Wales.
  • In America, there were 12,000 fatal injuries from crime involving firearms.
  • The population of America is six times bigger than England and Wales.
no guns
Photo David O

There are many who say the solution to gun crime in the US, is to have more guns. A republican Congressman stated, if only school teachers were armed, the Newtown tragedy could have been averted or at least death toll reduced (People who want to arm the teachers). Would you like to teach economics in the US, you will get a free fire-arm and round of ammunition? – no thanks.

In the UK, there is a reluctance to arm even the police – because despite their best intentions, on the rare occasions when guns are used innocent people have sometimes been caught in the crossfire. If the police were armed, people wouldn’t feel safer. Nor is there any compelling evidence they need to be armed.

After, the terrible tragedy in Newtown (and so many others) it is really hard to understand why anyone  would want to support a gun culture where guns and ammunition are so freely available. But, in the US, the days following the massacre  have seen a surge in gun sales.

There is an element of game theory to gun control. The best outcome is for no one to have guns. But, once the gun ownership rate goes up, many feel they have to get one too. There becomes an arms race. Now, there are 90 guns for every 100 Americans, and yet the appetite shows no signs of decreasing. The more guns there are in circulation, the more people feel they need to have one. No one particularly wants to be the first to let go of their arms. Guns are also big business, since 1990 the sale of legal guns alone has averaged about $3.5bn a year.

To me gun culture is a classic example of market failure. Having so many guns in circulation leads to a decline in living standards because of the death toll and fear generated. If the second amendment had banned the ownership of guns in the US, America would be a much more desirable place to live.


Perhaps one of the most bizarre things to learn about from the US gun control debate. Is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) with 4 million members opposes even the most basic controls, such as legislation to ban gun sales to people on the government’s terrorist watchlist. This means a suspected terrorist can be denied the right to board a plane, but he can’t be denied the right to buy a gun.

But, as to the question of living standards, which country would you choose to live in?


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