“Guns don’t kill people, trading guns does”

Well, that is a joke of sorts.  But here is Jim Kessler’s piece on deepening gun ownership.  He writes:

There are 280 million firearms in private hands in America, and last
year there were about 300,000 gun crimes. That means that at least
279,700,000 guns did nothing wrong. We also know that in 89 percent of
crimes, the person using the gun was not the person who originally
bought it. In 34 percent of crimes, the firearm was bought in one state
and used in a crime in another. And in 32 percent of crimes, the
firearm was less than three years old.

This indicates that the root of America’s gun crime problem is not
the number of guns in the hands of Americans, but an extensive web of
gun trafficking operations that funnel firearms to criminals.

The first step is to make gun trafficking a federal crime, not a
term of art…
Trafficking should be redefined as selling multiple guns out of a
home, car, street, or park that have two or more of the following
characteristics: obliterated serial numbers, are stolen, are new in the
box, or are sold to underage buyers or people with felony records. This
would still allow individuals to privately sell firearms to people they
know or trust, and it would put the onus on sellers to demand a
background check for those they don’t.

None of this seems quite right to me.  It seems to confuse "how things are done now" with "how things could be done if people needed substitutes."  For instance if this proposal were adopted, criminals might acquire guns at a young age and simply never give them up.  (Think of the idea as raising the liquidity premium on owning a gun.)  Or criminals might buy more guns from each other.  I can see that it makes sense to shut off some avenues of gun flow, such as gun sale shows with no buyer verification.  But once the stock of guns is high, I don’t think trying to control the flow is likely to prove an effective means of gun control.  Forcing the seller to verify the quality of the buyer is one form of a tax, and yes it will raise the price, but it is in turn hard to verify how well the seller performed this responsibility.  It seems less efficient than a simple and direct excise tax, for instance.

Addendum: Alternatively, you might pose a tax incidence question: how does taxing the stock of guns differ from taxing the flow of trade?  Both will raise price but taxing the flow limits "the velocity" of guns.  Taxing the flow should hurt "whim killers" but it won’t so much discourage regular killers.  The former get all the publicity but are they really the bigger problem?


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