What’s Your Best Idea to Cut Gun Deaths? A Freakonomics Quorum
Are there more guns in the U.S. or more opinions about guns?
Hard to say. This blog has featured a variety of posts about guns in the past; today we present a quorum with a very narrow focus: what are some good ideas to cut gun deaths? Let’s put aside for a moment the standard discussions about the right to bear arms and deal instead with the reality on the ground: there are a lot of gun deaths in this country; how can they be lessened?
Or, as Jens Ludwig puts it below:
“A big part of America’s problem with gun violence stems from young guys walking or driving around with guns and then doing stupid things with them.”
We asked a group of people who give a lot of thought to this issue — Ludwig, Jesus Castro Jr., Eric Proshansky, and David Hemenway — the following:
What’s your best idea to cut gun homicides in the U.S.?
Here are their answers. Comments welcome.
Jens Ludwig, McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
“Flashing a gun at a party might still score points, but it would now massively increase your legal risk.”
We should give out rewards — I mean big, serious rewards — for tips that help police confiscate illegal guns.
More people die from gun suicides than homicides in the U.S., but gun crime accounts for most of the $100 billion in social costs that Phil Cook and I estimate gun violence imposes each year. Most murders are committed with guns (around 75 percent in 2005 in Chicago). We also know that young people — particularly young males — are vastly over-represented among offenders, most murders happen outdoors, and a large share of all homicides stem from arguments or something related to gangs. A big part of America’s problem with gun violence stems from young guys walking or driving around with guns and then doing stupid things with them.
Young guys carry guns in part because this helps them get some street cred. For a project that Phil Cook, Anthony Braga, and I conducted with sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh (published in the November 2007 Economic Journal), Venkatesh asked people on the South Side of Chicago why they carry guns. As one gang member said, in the absence of having a gun:
“Who is going to fear me? Who [is] going to take me seriously? Nobody. I’m a [unprintable five-letter word that starts with the letter “p”] unless I got my gun.”
Guns are something that a lot of guys seem to have mostly to take to football and basketball games or parties and to show off to their friends or girlfriends. At the same time, the costs of carrying guns might be low. A previous Freakonomics post by Venkatesh notes that cops are less likely to be lenient for other offenses if someone is caught with a gun. But the chances of being arrested with a gun are probably modest, since the probability that even a serious violent crime or property crime results in arrest is surprisingly low.
Giving out serious money for anonymous tips about illegal guns would increase the costs of carrying a gun and reduce the benefits; flashing a gun at a party might still score points, but it would now massively increase your legal risk.
These rewards might help undercut trust among gang members and could be particularly helpful in keeping guns out of schools. A bunch of logistical issues would need to be worked out, including how large the rewards would be (I think $1,000 or more wouldn’t be crazy) and how police should respond to tips and confiscate guns while respecting civil liberties.
But this idea does have the big advantage of getting us out of the stale public debate about gun control, and it gives us a way to make progress on this major social problem right away.
Jesus “Manny” Castro Jr., 33, became an active gang member at the age of 12. After being incarcerated for two and a half years, he joined Cornerstone Church of San Diego and now runs the G.A.M.E. (Gang Awareness Through Mentoring and Education) program at the Turning the Hearts Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
“If parents knew that they would/could do time for their children’s behavior, perhaps they would stay more involved in their lives.”
Growing up in gangs and living the gang lifestyle, I have firsthand knowledge [of this issue] after seeing so many people die from gangs and guns! One great idea that can help to cut gun deaths in the U.S. is having the perpetrator’s family be financially responsible for all emotional, mental, and physical damages that result from the victim’s family’s loss.
This should include (but not be limited to) garnishing their wages for their entire lives and having them pay all funeral arrangements and all outstanding debts. If the perpetrator is under 18, then not only will he have to do time in prison but his parents should also be required to serve at least half of the time on behalf of his crime. Everything starts and stops in the home!
The greatest way to make this happen is to make it law and set up organizations that educate parents on how to stop gun violence and clearly teach them the consequences that result from gun violence. At Turning the Hearts Center, through our G.A.M.E. program, we found that the young people we are working with care about their parents and what they think.
I get parents’ input on what goes on at home so that I can implement and address their issues into our G.A.M.E. curriculum. Kids have respect for their parents — and if parents knew that they would/could do time for their children’s behavior, perhaps they would stay more involved in their lives.
If the people in communities around the U.S. can model what we do at Turning the Hearts Center, we can make a difference in the world. Hard-core issues like gun deaths need hard-core consequences.
Eric Proshansky, deputy chief of the Division of Affirmative Litigation, New York City Law Department. He has been part of Michael Bloomberg‘s legal team in his campaign to eliminate illegal guns in New York City.
“The elevation of the gun to sacred political status explains in part why 30,000 annual gun deaths have not given rise to anything like the complex regulation of, for example, the automobile or pharmaceuticals.”
Elect public officials who are, in fact, committed to reducing gun deaths in the U.S.
If deaths on the scale caused by guns were caused by any other consumer product (face it, that’s all guns are) solutions like those that have provided us with air bags (and other legally mandated fixes of useful products with the capacity to kill or maim when placed in the wrong hands) would have long since emerged.
The elevation of the gun to sacred political status explains in part why 30,000 annual gun deaths have not given rise to anything like the complex regulation of, for example, the automobile or pharmaceuticals.
What evidence there is suggests that who you vote for does affect the gun death rate. See L. David Roper, “Gun Deaths and Political Parties.” See also “Policies to Prevent Firearms Trafficking” by Jon Vernick and Daniel Webster, published in Injury Prevention in 2007.
It remains to be seen whether more or fewer gun deaths will result from a political process that in recent years: 1) engineered the appointment of a tipping-point Supreme Court vote aimed at overturning settled Second Amendment precedent; 2) gifted near-total legal immunity to the gun industry through the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (when did laws begin to be entitled by spinmeisters?); and 3) via the Tiahrt Amendments, concealed from the public previously available public gun-trace data that identify negligent (and worse) gun dealers.
Our preliminary experience in New York City has been that by identifying (through the now Congressionally suppressed gun-trace data) those retail gun dealers whose business practices foster gun trafficking and providing them — through the incentive of a lawsuit — with the motivation to sell with greater care, we reduced the number of guns that wind up in the hands of New York City criminals. Should the ultimate effect of that effort be fewer New York City gun deaths, that result will be directly traceable to policy choices made by the city’s elected officials.
No one knows exactly what regulatory measures will reduce gun deaths. But that ignorance is fostered by a political process that will not even permit experimentation. The notion — expressed recently by the Supreme Court in its decision on the Second Amendment — that “the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table” is pure circular reasoning; the judges and those who appoint them determine the architecture of that shrine.
“It’s time to take some of the politics out of firearm safety.”
Create the National Firearm Safety Administration.
A milestone in the history of motor vehicle safety in the United States, and the world, was the establishment (40 years ago) of what is now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A.). The N.H.T.S.A. created a series of data systems on motor vehicle crashes and deaths and provided funding for data analysis. This enabled us to know which policies work to reduce traffic injuries and which don’t. The N.H.T.S.A. mandated many safety standards for cars, including those leading to collapsible steering columns, seat belts, and airbags. It became an advocate for improving roads — helping to change the highway design philosophy from the “nut behind the wheel” to the “forgiving roadside.” Improvements in motor vehicle safety were cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a 20th-century success story.
A similar national agency is needed to help reduce the public health problems due to firearms. Firearms deaths are currently the second leading cause of injury deaths in the United States; more than 270 U.S. civilians were shot per day in 2005, and 84 of those died. In response, Congress should create a national agency (as it did for motor vehicles) with a mission to reduce the harm caused by firearms.
The agency should create and maintain comprehensive and detailed national data systems for firearms injuries and deaths and provide funding for research. (Currently the National Violent Death Reporting System provides funding for only 17 state data systems and no money for research.)
The agency should require safety and crime-fighting characteristics on all firearms manufactured and sold in the U.S. It should ban from regular civilian use products which are not needed for hunting or protection and which only endanger the public. It should have the power to ensure that there are background checks for all firearm transfers to help prevent guns from being sold to criminals and terrorists.
The agency needs the resources and the power (including standard setting, recall, and research capability) for making reasonable decisions about firearms. The power to determine the side-impact performance standards for automobiles resides with a regulatory agency, as does the power to decide whether to ban three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles (while allowing the safer four-wheeled vehicles).
Similarly, each specific rule regulating the manufacture and sale of firearms should go through a more scientific administrative process rather than the more political legislative process. It’s time to take some of the politics out of firearm safety.