There’s an elephant sitting largely undisturbed in the GVP living room, and it consists of the 75,000 times each year when someone picks up a gun and uses it to hurt someone else. In medicine this is referred to as ‘intentional injury/firearm.’ The cops call it an aggravated assault but if the bullet hits a vital spot, then a homicide has occurred. Either way, these events account for more than two-thirds of all gun injuries, and the number appears to be going up. For sure it’s going up in places like Chicago and Detroit, where rates have always exceeded national averages for violence caused with guns.
With all due respect to the energy and commitment if GVP activists, I still don’t believe this problem is being addressed at its core. It’s all well and good to ask the government to expand background checks on private gun sales, or crack down on straw sales, or pass stronger laws against gun trafficking, and I’m not arguing against the utility of such plans; I’m simply saying that none of those strategies attack the root of the problem, and the root is not supply but demand. Because what all those programs have in common is the belief that if the supply of guns that might end up in the wrong hands is choked off at the point where those guns enter or re-enter the market, this will lead to a smaller number of illegal guns, which will lead to fewer guns getting into the wrong hands, which will lead to less guns being used to inflict injuries on others.
Unfortunately, while we know a lot about the supply side of the argument, we know next to nothing about the demand for guns. Why do a small percentage of individuals who commit violent acts against others commit these acts by using guns? According to the CDC, there were 2.3 million intentional, violence-related injuries in 2013, of which 78,000, or 3%, were caused by guns. So while we focus our thoughts and concerns on the 3%, the fact is that 97% of people who commit violent acts choose not to use a gun. And I simply don’t believe that the motives which explain that choice can be assumed to reflect difficulties in getting hold of a gun. Particularly because in neighborhoods where most gun violence occurs, even the younger kids will tell you that a gun can easily be acquired in 24 hours or less.
The problem with choking off guns at the point of supply is that most such policies would require some change in behavior of law-abiding sellers or buyers of guns. The movie, Making A Killing, includes a segment about Chuck’s Gun Shop, out of whose inventory comes many guns that end up being used in Chicago crimes. Know what happened after Chuck’s promised to be more vigilant in checking who was buying their guns? Gun violence in Chicago went up. I know, I know. There are plenty of other gun shops located close enough to the Windy City where the bad guys can get guns. That’s exactly my point. As long as guns are legal commerce, don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why, the market will find some way to satisfy demand.
Back in the 16th Century, the French monarchy imposed a very strict tariff on salt, the gabelle, in order to raise funds for the always-depleted royal treasury. Know what happened? Salt smuggling became the #1 non-farming occupation in Southern France. It’s a mistake which we make all the time to differentiate between the ‘legal’ market and the ‘illegal’ or ‘black’ market, because in fact they operate exactly the same way. A market, legal or illegal, is created whenever there is an exchange of products for money and regulating the former may have little or no impact on the latter.
Of course there’s one infallible way to regulate both markets when it comes to guns. And we all know what that way is.