Guns and Externalities

In economics, an externality is defined as the effect of a decision by one set of parties on other parties who did not have a choice and whose interests were not taken into account.

The classic example of a negative externality is the widget manufacturer who pollutes a local waterway rather than properly disposing of his toxic byproducts. This saves the manufacturer money, advantaging him in the marketplace because he doesn’t have to factor the cost of disposal into the price of his widgets. Local taxpayers pay to clean up the waterway, effectively subsidizing his profits.

The discussion on this blog yesterday triggered (I know, bad pun) a consideration of the externalities created by our current permissive gun laws.

The Shorenstein Center at Harvard has an interesting and relevant analysis. It begins with the raw numbers:

More than 30,000 people a year in the United States die from gunshot wounds, whether intentional or accidental. What we don’t hear as much about are the tens of thousands more who are hurt by bullets but survive. In 2013, five people suffered non-fatal firearm injuries for every two who died, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 2003 to 2013, 799,760 people sustained non-fatal injuries — nearly 23 percent of which were accidental. This 10-year total includes 82,325 children age 17 and younger.

A recent, 18 state study focused on individuals who had been treated for a firearm injury in 2010 and discharged alive. The research team assessed the strictness of gun legislation in those states using scorecards created by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Among the research findings:

There were, on average, 19 non-fatal firearm injuries per 100,000 people in 2010. Of the states included in the study, Hawaii had the fewest injuries — 3.3 non-fatal gun injuries per 100,000 people. South Carolina had the most with 36.6 per 100,000 people…..

States with strict laws regulating background checks and gun purchases had lower rates of non-fatal injury. Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws also were associated with lower rates of non-fatal injury. When researchers analyzed legislation and the records of patients who were 19 years old and younger, they found that states with strict child-access laws had fewer children and teenagers with self-inflicted and accidental firearm injuries compared to states with “non-strict” laws.

Here’s the kicker–or, in economic terms, the externality.

Recent estimates have suggested that the societal cost of nonfatal firearm injuries in 2010 approached $20 billion …

And guess who pays most of that $20 billion?

Most of this economic burden falls on taxpayers via costs directed toward Medicare, Medicaid, and the uninsured.

Yesterday, in the comments, Red George suggested requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance. A great idea, but I’m sure the NRA would argue that making gun owners assume responsibility for the damage they cause would violate the Second Amendment.

And we know who writes the laws….

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things….

Like reasonable laws.

Recently, Indianapolis City-County Councilor Kip Tew sponsored an ordinance that would  require people to file a report if a gun they owned was lost or stolen.

Laws requiring gun owners to report loss or theft of a weapon help police in several ways:  they deter gun trafficking and discourage straw purchasing; they  facilitate the return of the guns, if found, to their lawful owners; and they help police disarm people who aren’t legally eligible to possess firearms.

As an officer friend pointed out recently, timely reporting of gun thefts and losses allows police to trace guns more effectively, and makes the successful prosecution of users of stolen guns more likely.

A very small step, granted, but a step in the right direction.

Currently, however, there aren’t enough votes to pass the measure. Not because council members are opposed to it, but because several of them worry that it might violate a relatively recent provision of the Indiana Code–a provision so ridiculous I couldn’t believe it was real.

Here are the relevant parts of Indiana Code 35-47-11.1 – 7.

Except as provided in section 4 of this chapter, a political subdivision may not regulate:
(1) firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories;
(2) the ownership, possession, carrying, transportation, registration, transfer, and storage of firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories; and
(3) commerce in and taxation of firearms, firearm ammunition, and firearm accessories.

Anyone “adversely affected” by such an action is authorized to sue for damages.

This is yet another example of the legislature telling local governments what they can and cannot do (my Home Rule complaint). And in this case, what our local folks can’t do is anything that even smells of gun regulation.

But the rest of this abomination is even worse:

A person is “adversely affected” for purposes of section 5 of this chapter if either of the following applies:
…..
(2) The person is a membership organization that:
(A) includes two (2) or more individuals described in subdivision (1); and
(B) is dedicated in whole or in part to protecting the rights of persons who possess, own, or use firearms for competitive, sporting, defensive, or other lawful purposes.

Sec. 7. A prevailing plaintiff in an action under section 5 of this chapter is entitled to recover from the political subdivision the following:
(1) The greater of the following:
(A) Actual damages, including consequential damages.
(B) Liquidated damages of three (3) times the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
(2) Court costs (including fees). (3) Reasonable attorney’s fees.

Short version: if Indianapolis tries to protect its citizens by controlling guns or ammunition in any way whatever, the “membership organization” (i.e. the NRA) can sue the city and recover attorney’s fees and punitive (“liquidated”) damages from our tax dollars.

Think about that.

I can’t imagine what “damages” the NRA would suffer from the passage of an innocuous and helpful measure like reporting stolen guns. (For that matter, putting on my lawyer hat,  I don’t think that “theft” comes within the definition of “ownership, possession, carrying, transportation, registration, transfer, and storage,” but I do understand council members’ concern that it might.)

If you ever want an example of the way a well-heeled lobby overrides the will–and the welfare–of mere citizens, this one’s a doozy.

They’re Out to Get Us..

According to a recent story in something called the Civic Tribune,

The internet is abuzz with reports of forced micro-chipping taking place in Clint, Texas. Dozens of families were said to be rounded up by American troops, and given the option of an RFID implant, or imprisonment for an indefinite amount of time.

Well, as you know, Obama is using Jade Helm to take over Texas. He also plans to confiscate everyone’s guns. The moon landing was faked. The government is hiding the remains of aliens and their flying saucer in a secret compound at Roswell. Agenda 21 is a U.N. plan to destroy American sovereignty…

According to Time Magazine, there are more people who subscribe to these and other loony-tune theories than most of us would guess. (And I thought Donald Trump was the most depressing aspect of contemporary American life…)

According to a pair of new studies published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, conspiracy theorists—and there are a lot more of them than you may think—tend to have one thing in common: they feel a lack of control over their lives.

Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, has been studying conspiracy theories and those who believe them for six years. “When I started this research, one of the things that I really found astonishing was how many people believe in certain conspiracy theories,” he says.

Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters.

We certainly live in a “time of uncertainty.” The Great Recession, the yawning gap between the rich and the rest of us, the incessant news reports highlighting terrorism both foreign and domestic, and–perhaps most of all– the constantly accelerating pace of social and technological change have combined to create a free-floating anxiety to which few of us are immune.

Still, it’s hard to believe that social uncertainty really explains the Birthers….and the Black Helicopters…and the New World Order….and the “proven” fact that Obama plans to cancel elections and make himself President for Life…

The distance between feeling a loss of control and embracing bat-shit-crazy is evidently a lot shorter than we knew.

Life in the City

INIndianapolis will be holding its elections for Mayor and City-County Council in November, and the candidates will be talking about the issues that face our city–and hopefully, how they plan to address those issues.

It will be interesting to see how many of the challenges they identify are the same ones that mayors of other cities cited most frequently at a recent conference on the state of the nation’s cities.

Our annual State of the Cities report examines what is happening now in cities. The top 10 issues discussed by mayors in their 2015 State of the City addresses are essential to operations, development, and livability.

The analysis reveals what issues mayors are focused on by measuring the percentage of speeches significantly covering an issue. We examined 100 State of the City speeches in cities large and small, with a regionally diverse sample from across the country. These are the top issues that matter to cities.

The issues identified were, in ascending order of frequency, healthcare (especially in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA); demographics (race relations, cultural diversity, sexual orientation, and immigration); environment and energy (a category that includes public transportation); data and technology; housing; education; budgets; public safety; infrastructure; and economic development.

All of these issues face us here in Indianapolis. Unlike cities in states with genuine home rule, however, the ability of our mayor and council–no matter whom we elect–will be severely constrained by the fact that, in Indiana, municipal governments can do very little beyond what the state legislature in its “wisdom,” allows. (You will recall we spent a good two years begging the General Assembly for the right to decide whether to tax ourselves in order to expand mass transit.)

So–as the candidates mount their campaigns, hold “meet-and-greet’ events and fundraisers and otherwise make themselves available to We the People, in addition to asking about their preferred policies, we also need to ask them how they intend to work with our “overlords” at the Indiana General Assembly.

Shoot Me Now–Pun Intended

File under: Parishioners packing heat.

A church in Alabama has opened a gun range. Right behind the church.

According to the pastor,

“We had quite a number of church members, some elderly ladies, for example, and some not so elderly women that had purchased guns, but didn’t know how to use them,” Guin told WIAT-TV.

He said the safety classes evolved into a ministry, the Rocky Mount Hunt and Gun Club.

“This is an opportunity for us to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ in a setting that is completely unique. Even odd by some people’s standards. But who’s to say that church can’t happen right here,” Guin said…..

“Really, the whole purpose of this range is to provide recreational and gun safety in a warm, loving, Christian environment,” Guin said. “We wanted to come up with some different ideas to help our church grow, and we thought this would be a unique ministry to offer to the community.”

Evidently, in Alabama, the way to grow a congregation is to offer a “gun ministry.” The NRA will be so proud….

(It’s probably unfair, but when I read this, I immediately recalled an old Second City comedy routine from Cold War days, in which the repeated exhortation was to “kill a Commie for Christ.”)

I don’t pretend to understand the theology involved, but I’m worried that I do understand the marketing approach….