Why Gun Traffickers Should Live in Arizona

A new study by Brian Knight, an economist at Brown, explores the flow of the illegal firearm market in America and compares the source of guns used in crimes to gun laws in and around that state.

How big is the market for illegal firearms? Pretty big. Knight writes: “ATF investigations into tracking between July 1996 and December 1998 identify over 84,000 firearms that were diverted into this secondary market (ATF, 2000).” Meanwhile, each state in America legislates its own gun laws, resulting in cross-state externalities. For example, Knight cites anecdotal evidence showing that a gun purchased legally in Virginia for $150 - $200 typically resells in New York City for $500 - $600. This is the sort of thing that keeps Michael Bloomberg up at night.

Here’s the abstract:

Will First-to-File Hurt Small Inventors?

The U.S. just passed the first major patent reform in nearly sixty years – which includes as a central provision a change to the patent priority rule. Instead of awarding a patent to the first person to invent, we will join other nations in awarding patents to the first person to file an invention.

David Abrams and Polk Wagner have a great paper looking at whether the proposed change in our patent system from a “first to invent” regime to a “first to file” regime is likely to disadvantage individual inventors. The concern is that corporate inventors will have an easier time than the individual in gearing up to draft and file a patent application.

The paper ingeniously looks to see what happened when Canada introduced a similar reform in 1989. The paper is also a great way to teach yourself about the difference-in-difference approach to estimation. The paper first estimates the pre-reform difference between the U.S. and Canada in the proportion of patents going to individual inventors. It then looks to see whether this difference changed – that is, whether there was a difference in the difference – after the Canadian first-to-file reform went into effect.

How Advancements in Neuroscience Will Influence the Law

Oh, my neck! Oh, my back!

Every day, legal decisions are made based on the pain, suffering, and anxiety people say they're feeling, even though we have no objective way to measure them. So what if we could see inside people's minds -- not just to know what they're feeling now, but what they've felt in the past too?

Advancements in neuroscience are already improving our ability to do so. A new article published in the Emory Law Journal (full version here) entitled "The Experiential Future of the Law," by Brooklyn Law School professor Adam Kolber, looks at how these advancements will continue over the next 30 years (to the point of near mind-reading), and how they'll inevitably lead to changes in the law.

What Will San Francisco Ban Next? How About Circumcisions

Last November, when San Francisco effectively banned McDonald's Happy Meals, we wondered what it would try to ban next. The answer? Circumcisions. From the AP:

A group seeking to ban the circumcision of male children in San Francisco has succeeded in getting their controversial measure on the November ballot, meaning voters will be asked to weigh in on what until now has been a private family matter.
City elections officials confirmed Wednesday that the initiative had received enough signatures to appear on the ballot, getting more than 7,700 valid signatures from city residents. Initiatives must receive at least 7,168 signatures to qualify.
If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.

Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing

A new study of capital sentences handed down in first degree murder cases finds evidence of racial bias against minority defendants who killed white victims. The study (abstract here; pdf here) was conducted by Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and Eliana La Ferrara of Universita' Bocconi. It finds that for sentences handed down to minority defendants convicted of killing white victims were as much as 9 percent more likely to be reversed than in cases involving a minority defendant killing a minority victim. The study examined the race of the defendant and of the victim(s) for all capital appeals that be came final in the U.S. between 1973 and 1995.

Iatrogenic Legal Assistance?

Harvard Professors Jim Greiner and Cassandra Pattanayak have posted a remarkable randomized experiment ("What Difference Representation?") with evidence showing that offers for free legal representation from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) ended up hurting unemployment claimants.

Michigan's Big Industry

My Michigan-dwelling grandson will be 15 soon and will start learning to drive. He can't get a full license until he's 17, though, as the state wants to limit times and amounts of teen driving, presumably for safety reasons. That's sensible - teen drivers are more likely to get into accidents. Despite this, the state prevents insurance companies from requiring people to purchase additional coverage for the teenager, even though between ages 16 and 17 the boy will be driving on his own.

Behavioral Economics, the Law, and the Regulators

Truth on the Market is hosting an online forum on behavioral law and economics, the "Free to Choose?" symposium. So far, people like David Levine, Ronald Mann and Christopher Sprigman have taken their turns.

What Will San Francisco Ban Next?

I keep thinking the headlines are from The Onion but they are not. First we read that San Francisco has effectively banned the Happy Meal. Then we learn of a new law that bans people from sitting or lying on city sidewalks from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. (known, naturally, as the "sit/lie law"). Some months ago, the city's Commission of Animal Control and Welfare proposed banning the sale of any pets other than fish, but that measure has apparently been tabled.

Quotes Uncovered: Notable Supreme Court Quotes

Turning from celebrity culture to a weightier arena, I am again seeking suggestions of notable quotations from United States Supreme Court decisions of recent years. Are there any worthy successors to the eloquent justices of the past, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Robert H. Jackson?