The Economic Approach to Evaluating Gun Control Policies

What do economists have to offer in evaluating gun control policies? Our answer, explained in our book, Gun Violence: The Real Costs, may come as a surprise. Economic science offers a framework for defining and assessing the problem of gun violence that is quite different than the main contender, public health. The difference, in a nutshell, is between the public health focus on saving lives versus the economic focus on increasing safety. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it has important implications for how we prioritize what to do, and how much to do it. “Gun violence is a public health problem” is a familiar claim, not only made by public health scholars and advocates but also by commentators, most prominently The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof. Without a doubt it is a public health issue, since nearly 40,000 people are shot and killed each year and another 120,000 are shot but survive, sometimes with a resulting lifetime…

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