The economics of mass shootings

It’s become a reflexive response every time guns grab the headlines to say that mass shootings drive up gun sales.  Go to a gun store or show, and you’ll likely find a poster declaring President Obama to be the gun salesman of the century.

This impression is backed up by reports and data from the gun manufacturing industry.  In an article titled, “Gun Industry Executives Say Mass Shootings Are Good for Business,” on The Intercept, Lee Fang offers a look at internal discussions among executives in the making and selling of guns.  As expected, after shootings in Tucson, Newtown, and after the elections of Obama, a politician who has repeatedly expressed his antipathy toward gun owners and gun rights, the demand for guns spikes.

Ladd Everitt, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, declares that the “suits” in the industry are being cynical.  In doing so, he repeats the assumption that more guns must mean more deaths.  This claim sounds like good sense to people who are predisposed to supporting ever more strict gun laws, but the facts don’t bear out the conclusion.  Gun laws have loosened in most states and on the federal level, and people are buying guns in huge numbers, including record sales this year on Black Friday, and yet, our rates of violent crime, including homicide, are at decades-long lows.  But Everitt and others on the side of gun control will continue asserting that increases in Americans exercising their rights will inevitably lead to rises in killings.

I’ve discussed the subject of the profits made by the gun industry before. Gun control advocates seem unable to understand that when a legal product is threatened with increased regulations, with restricted access, or with other burdens imposed on ownership, people who have thought about buying will rush to become owners before any new rules take effect.  Demands for increased controls thus makes control less likely as the number of privately held firearms climbs.

But are industry executives wrong to discuss this effect with regard to their sales?  Conversations among professionals can sound crass to outsiders.  Listen to doctors or police officers in private moments discussing the people they deal with daily—or to teachers talking about students, I have to admit—and you’ll hear a combination of amusement, hope, and dismay.  One example of this is the student who e-mailed me to ask if I’d guarantee her an A for the semester before she even started my class.  Discussing this with my colleagues offered a chance to expel the shock that anyone could be so brazen, even in this entitled era.

There may be some of this going on in the gun industry, but more than that, I see here just a recognition that the market demands a particular number of guns, and if one manufacturer fails to meet expectations, others will step in.  This is the capitalist system.

If we accept capitalism—or more broadly the concept of a free market—the question then becomes whether it’s wrong to sell guns in the first place.  Once we get past feigned surprise at the economics, we’re left with the realization that gun control groups really do want to stop gun ownership.  If they were concerned only with disarming criminals or with keeping guns away from the dangerously mentally ill, they would have no problem with law-abiding people buying firearms.  Each gun made by a U.S. manufacturer goes through a licensed dealer in its first sale, and that means a background check.  Opponents of gun rights are showing that even when we follow the rules they’ve demanded, that doesn’t satisfy them.  If they really don’t want to disarm us all, then what is their goal?  It’s in our interest to drive this point home again and again until Americans in general understand what’s at stake.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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