The Economics of Mass Shootings

By Kyra Ward
Editor, Economics & International Relations Student 

Valentine’s Day 2018 has been marked in the United States as one of the many days that has ended in a school shooting. Like previous shootings, this one has brought back the arguments about gun control and regulation, and the extreme backlash causing mass hysteria over the possibility of the government taking away citizens’ guns. This however, is an economics magazine, and for that reason it makes sense to analyze the costs of these shootings, both to the actors as well as the victims and look at the numbers involved in mass gun violence in the United States.

The economic impact of the gun industry in the United States is immense. A 2017 report done by The Firearms Industry Trade Association found that the Arms and Ammunition industry added $51,251,443,900 to the US economy annually. This includes wages for jobs, arms, and ammunition sales, as well as other factors. To provide a comparison, the UK “shooting” industry adds around $2,810,528,238.78 to their economy annually (though it is worth noting that the UK has a very high weapons export industry, however, this article is solely focused on the internal revenue of the firearms industry). It is no wonder that the US arms and ammunition industry is basically untouchable despite the now frequent massacres that take place.

In addition to the purely economic gains from the arms industry, there is also a huge amount of money and influence expended to serve the gun lobby’s political interests. The National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States spends incredible amounts of money securing politicians support in the government. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign received $11,438,118 and Florida senator Marco Rubio’s reelection campaign received $1,008,030 from the NRA. With so much money influencing their politics, as well as the tendency of the Republican party to favor gun rights, the idea of passing new gun control measures in a majority Republican government seems dire.

After every shooting there has been a political push from grassroots movements to instate some sort of comprehensive gun control. However, the backlash against this, both culturally and from pro-gun politicians and institutions, has been immense. There could be a political way to approach this issue without seeming like there needs to be an introduction of more gun policy. Framed as a way to close existing loopholes, politicians can use the existing laws to create more regulation. One of these laws that has the most potential is the “cooling off” period that is currently a state’s rights issue. Currently the FBI conducts a cursory background check to make sure that the customer is not affiliated with any current terrorist organizations or is a convicted felon. However, there is a federal stipulation where if the FBI is not able to carry out a background check within three days the gun seller is allowed to sell the gun to the customer regardless of his background.

This loophole, known as the ‘Charleston Loophole’, was the reason that Dylann Roof was able to purchase a handgun that he later used to kill nine people in a church in Charleston. This loophole currently allows for around 3,000 people a year to purchase a firearm without a background check. The FBI even recommends a waiting period of 25 days in order to properly conduct a background check. This is an already in place bureaucratic process that would only need to be changed insofar as the period a business has to wait would need to be extended to allow for the FBI to properly do their job.

No one’s gun would be taken away, and no one’s second amendment rights would be infringed upon. There needs to be a greater movement for comprehensive gun control, but if the US isn’t ready for common sense,  the least we could do is close the existing loopholes for the already minimal current regulation.

As of February 2018, the US has already experienced 6,874 non-suicide gun deaths, roughly 143 deaths per day. This is no longer a few isolated incidents and tragic accidents, it has become a full blown national epidemic. The only solution that will ever exist is more comprehensive federal gun control, and the only way that will happen is if there is a strong enough grassroots movement to go up against the huge influence of the NRA. From 1994 until 2004 there was an assault weapons ban, guns like the one used in Las Vegas, Orlando, and most recently in Florida would not be legal to sell. During these 10 years there were 12 incidents (mass shootings) and 89 deaths; from 2004 until 2014 there were 34 incidents and 302 deaths. That is roughly a 239% increase over the span of 10 years. There is astronomical evidence that assault weapons allow mass shooting to be much more fatal. Relatively simple regulative changes like closing the Charleston Loophole and bringing back the assault weapons ban could curtail the amount of devastation significantly. Both of these measures are things that the US has already done, the former is just a matter of making current policy more effective and the latter is bringing back policy which already existed.

The out of pocket cost to the Valentine’s Day shooting perpetrator was less than $1000. The breakdown of these costs is as follows: 1 standard AR-15 Rifle is around $700 (£499) and 40 rounds of .223 Remmington bullets are $11.75 (about £8.40). So, the grand total of the entire massacre was $711.75 (£507.37) with tax—that is all it costs to kill 17 people in the US.

The arms industry is a goliath with a constitutional backing and a cultural foothold, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be common sense gun control.

Photo of “Houston Gun show at the George R. Brown Convention Center” by Edward/Wikimedia Commons



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