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:
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.