How Much Utility Do We Get From Guns?

Lexy Schmieder

            In the wake of the Orlando shooting (the deadliest in American history) gun control has dominated political talk. How can we solve this gun-violence epidemic? Do we take all guns away? Do we increase security? Where can we compromise? Does any of this allow people to “make themselves as well off as possible, however, they happen to define that?” [1] Of course, I have my own personal opinion but the real answer is not set in stone. In the end, our country will have to come up with an answer to this problem, as what we are doing now is obviously not working.

I’d like to start off by saying that both sides of the political spectrum, liberal and conservative, have valid points on how we should tackle gun control. First, we’ll start with the liberal ideal. Since the start of this year, there have been 136 mass shootings in the U.S. [2] In comparison, Australia hasn’t had any mass shootings in 19 years, following their introduction of strict gun regulations [3]. However, Australia doesn’t have “the right to bear arms” in their constitution. Many democrats suggest  background checks, fewer guns available, and certain restrictions on why you can have guns. Would they derive more utility by knowing that there are fewer guns on the street? Now, for the conservative point of view: we see that a majority of these mass shootings have taken place in so-called “gun-free zones” [4]. This is a serious problem because anyone who wants to hurt people can simply walk into a Zone and know that nobody will have a concealed weapon. Many on the right say that no matter what, criminals will get weapons, and the background checks and increased regulation only harms law-abiding citizens. How much utility would they get from having guns everywhere?

The most recent shootings show us that we have been facing similar problems for a long time. We don’t know whether the violence happened because someone got ahold of a weapon that should have been illegal, or because someone who had a weapon was aware of the fact that they could use it in an already gun-free zone. There is no right or wrong answer in this situation, simply because everyone will have his or her own opinions. But I guess the ultimate question is, do you derive more utility from owning a gun or knowing that someone else doesn’t have one? Political opinions aside, this past weekend’s shootings reminded everyone that something must be done. When someone is able to obtain a weapon that can cause this much harm, there must be change. Whether that change should be made by the people or by the government introducing new regulations is a matter of opinion. But the central question of this debate remains: which option maximizes our utility as a whole? Which option carries the least expensive opportunity cost? And finally, how many more people have to die before we take action?

[1] Wheelan, Charles J. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: Norton, 2010. 6

[2] “2016.” Gun Violence Archive. June 13, 2016.

[3] “How Australia and Britain Tackled Gun Violence.” Daily Intelligencer. 2015.

[4] “UPDATED: More …: “Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings,” Showing How Mass Public Shootings Keep Occurring in Gun-free Zones – Crime Prevention Research Center.” Crime Prevention Research Center. 2014.

America Made of Guns. Digital image. December 4, 2015.


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