The National Center for Policy Analysis makes (march, 1999) the argument
that guns contribute a significant benefit to society. Given the strong
arguments deployed on both sides of the gun debate, an accurate cost &
benefit analysis would make a useful objective contribution.
The National Center calculated the total annual costs of gun crime by
multiplying the number of gun crimes committed each year by the average
economic cost of a crime. They used a range of values for each component,
since criminologists disagree in assigning dollar costs to a crime
(estimates range from $524 to over $20,000, incorporating values for the
cost of pain and suffering). Nor is there unanimity on how many gun crimes
are committed each year. Official figures from the Justice Department say
483,000. Many academics put the figure nearer 900,000. With these values, a
range for the annual cost of gun crime can be calculated!
Working out the benefits of gun use is even more complicated. Opinions
differ widely on how many crimes are prevented each year by the defensive
use of guns. Official government figures suggest about 80,000, but most
criminologists give much higher estimates, ranging from 764,000 to 3.6
million defensive uses a year, which include circumstances where the gun is
merely displayed. Multiplying these figures by the average costs of crime
produces a range of estimates about how much money is saved by defensive gun
The National Center then added another amount based on the number of
criminals killed by civilians, taking into account the crimes that criminal
would no longer commit (over the next 10 years). Based on these assumptions,
the National Center calculated the net annual benefit to society from
defensive gun use to be somewhere between 90 million and 39 billion dollars.
But if an analysis takes into account some form of long-term benefit, it
really also has to take into account long-term costs. The figures ideally
would have to include the costs of all the gun crimes committed over the
next ten years and the benefits both from the crimes directly prevented by
defensive gun use and from all the costs avoided by the killing of
STATS (april, 1999) took the National Center figures, re-worked them to
include full long-term values and applied tests to see how sensitive the
data were to certain factors. Conclusions:
* If 2.5 million crimes are prevented each year by defensive gun use,
there is a clear and substantial (over $1 billion) net benefit to society
from the use of guns.
* If civilians kill 3,000 criminals a year, there is a clear net benefit
* If the Justice Department figure of 483,000 crimes per year committed
with guns is correct, there is a clear net benefit to society.
* However, if you accept the Justice Department figures for crimes
prevented and criminals killed, there is a clear and substantial net cost to
* If a median figure for crimes prevented each year (764,000) is used,
then there is a clear net cost to society (from $33 million to over $1
billion) unless over 2000 criminals are killed each year.
The differing conclusions show how unsettled the debate still is.
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