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Elliott R. Morss
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Elliott Morss has spent most of his career teaching and working as an economic consultant to developing countries on issues of trade, finance, and environmental preservation. Dr. Morss received a B.A. from Williams College in 1960 and a Ph.D. in political economy from The Johns Hopkins... More
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  • US Guns: What Should And Should Not Be Done 6 comments
    Jan 14, 2013 1:09 PM

    US Guns: What Should and Should Not Be Done

    © Elliott R. Morss

    January 2013


    Recent mass shootings have again focused US attention on something the rest of the world thinks is crazy - permissive US gun laws. In my recent pieces, I have provided documentation on how US gun laws have resulted in a society with as many guns as people and a belief that somehow having a gun will protect you from other people with guns. I have also argued out that the main justification for gun possession - the Second Amendment to the US Constitution - has been badly misinterpreted by the US Supreme Court.

    The shootings have rekindled talk about enacting more restrictive gun laws. This often happens with little result as the gun manufacturers and owners, organized and managed by the National Rifle Association, keep further restrictions from being enacted. But in the current climate, I fear there is just as good a chance that bad gun laws will be passed as good. I review both good and bad new laws below.

    Bad Laws

    1. Bans

    Whenever you hear the word "ban", like in "ban" assault weapons, you can be sure it would be a bad law. Why do I say this? Because I have reviewed US history on past and current bans, i.e., drinking (Prohibition) and drugs. My conclusion: they don't work because of the sizable US market for both products. Worse still, the bans create a criminal element that provides the product to the US market. During Prohibition, American kept drinking with most of the booze provided by a machine-gun carrying mafia. The war on drugs? As I have documented, a complete disaster. Despite spending billions each year at home and abroad, US consumption of drugs is just as high as ever with US jails full of drug "possessors". One interesting point: the US ranks 10th in the world as measured by total shooting deaths and of the 9 countries above it are from Central and Latin America. Why do they have so many shootings? Most of the shootings stem from the criminal elements operating in those countries to provide drugs to the US market.

    1. Another Attack on the Mentally Ill

    In reaction to the latest shootings, some have suggested cracking down on people with mental problems. Bad idea. We all have some degree of mental problem, and there is no reason to return to the 1950s when mental hospitals became prisons for reasonably normal people.

    Good Laws

    Over the last two weeks, I have heard probably 20 gun defenders concede the US has a gun problem but there is nothing the government can do that would make any difference. This is just nonsense. Consider cigarettes - a documented killer that is legal. The program in place to restrict their use is working. What is that program? Restrict cigarette use by age, limit cigarette advertising, and tax them heavily.

    So what should we do about guns? I suggest three new steps:

    1. Heavier Taxes

    Guns, like cigarettes, have high social costs. Consequently, guns should be taxed like cigarettes. A Federal law should be passed that imposes a 100% sales tax on any gun sale.

    1. Unregistered Gun Possession Penalties Should be Increased

    Right now, penalties for the possession of unregistered guns are administered by states. And as you can imagine, there is a lot of winking and blinking going on. A new Federal law is needed that requiring a mandatory three years in prison and a $100,000 fine for possession of an unregistered gun.

    1. Gun Insurance

    You are required to pass a driving test and carry insurance on autos. Why mandatory insurance? Because autos are dangerous: people driving autos get in accidents and mandatory insurance means accident victims get compensation.

    How are guns any different? Guns are dangerous: people using guns cause accidents and mandatory insurance would mean accident victims would get compensation.

    There are about 30,000 auto fatalities annually. The FBI reports 10,000 firearm homicides annually and another 200,000 are injured by guns.

    Guns should be treated no differently than cars. Accident insurance for all guns should be mandatory. Gun owners should be required to carry insurance for every gun they own.


    The US gun problem is so vast that one wonders where to start. And we hear a lot about "lawful gun owners". But don't kid yourself. Listen to the following "lawful gun owners" make their case:

    Do you want these people to own guns?

    I do not.

    The gun culture is so ingrained that there will be great resistance to any new gun restriction proposals. However, I believe the new laws I have suggested above are a good place to start.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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Comments (6)
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  • AJAdams
    , contributor
    Comments (16) | Send Message
    Nice try. I do not see how your proposed laws would have stopped the two young assassins in Newtown, Ct or Colorado. So besides murder they would also be guilty of violating your suggested laws or maybe they would have complied and still attacked innocents. Your proposals would not stop them. Instead of attacking gun ownership, lets deal with really stopping the perpetrators of such crimes before they act.
    I do not own any stock in gun manufacturing companies nor do I own a gun; registered or unregistered.
    15 Jan 2013, 05:46 PM Reply Like
  • Elliott R. Morss
    , contributor
    Comments (778) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » AJA;


    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. This is such a divisive issue in the US that it is hard to find a way to have a civilized discourse.


    But we have to try. So I organized a dinner group that include a member of NRA. He clarified a lot of issues about the definition of different weapons and pointed out what the NRA is recommending.


    I don't know about you, but I agree all schools should have armed guards - simply too many guns and there will be copycats.


    I also agree with you that what I am recommending would not have mattered in the recent mass killings.


    But should that really be the test?


    Guns are so pervasive in the US that it will take one or two decades at the least for any meaningful progress to be made.


    So what am I suggesting?


    Don't ban guns, but make them cost more via higher taxes and an insurance requirement.
    15 Jan 2013, 08:31 PM Reply Like
  • AJAdams
    , contributor
    Comments (16) | Send Message
    Sorry, typying on a tablet and hit publish by error.
    It is a more complex issue than making gun ownership more expensive to reduce the number of guns. That is an easier "feel good" approach to make us feel like something is being done to prevent such attacks. As a society we must aggressively attack the real problem; evil or insane individuals who would kill no matter the method.
    16 Jan 2013, 07:40 AM Reply Like
  • Elliott R. Morss
    , contributor
    Comments (778) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » AJA:
    What do you suggest?
    I am open to any and all suggestion.
    But keep in mind that with as many guns as people in the US, it will take time.
    And recognize further that gun manufacturers both via direct contributions to politicians and via the NRA, will do all they can to block any changes.
    16 Jan 2013, 08:22 PM Reply Like
  • AJAdams
    , contributor
    Comments (16) | Send Message
    Dr. Morss we apparently see different problems to be solved. You believe the problem is too many guns in our country. I think regardless of the method, a very small number of individuals will commit these attacks. They are already in the mindset to do harm to as many as possible and therefore will not worry about violating any and all gun control regulations we might devise. So only the law abiding citizen will carry the burden of compliance, while in your own words, your proposed new laws would not have prevented the Newtown or any other recent mass shootings.


    I am not clever enough to have a suggested solution. I just believe as a country we have not defined the problem. I do not see this as a law enforcement issue, but as something more complex involving how we approach mental health and cultural issues.


    I am sure you have observed that since Columbine, the shooters all seem to be white or Asian young men. Why is that? Does it mean anything? Could it point to a solution? These are the sorts of things that we should debating instead of quickly applying new restrictions on guns. If all of these have been sorted out by those with more expertise than I, then gun restrictions with other proposals might be the consensus.


    Special interests influencing legislation is just how it is in a representative republic. I am glad special interests exist and use them myself when an issue concerning me is at hand. So I and others might become memebers of an NRA or AARP or Sierra Club. I think that gun manufactureres and NRA have strong opposing special interest groups with which to contend. That's alright if there is a full and thorough debate and both sides agree on the problem. I do not think both sides have agreed on the issue yet and so I have little hope of a good outcome; one reducing the number of mass shootings in America.
    17 Jan 2013, 06:50 AM Reply Like
  • Elliott R. Morss
    , contributor
    Comments (778) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » AJA:


    Facts are important on this issue. And I tried to assemble a number of them in one of my recent postings - http://bit.ly/VqBeXY.


    I pointed out in that article that the primary gun threat in the US does not come from mass shootings - they get the most attention, but they are not the primary problem.


    The primary problem is that every year, more than 11,000 Americans are gunned down in homicides and another 19,000 shoot themselves (homicides). And international data suggest a link between the prevalence of guns and shooting deaths.


    Studies I reference in that piece also suggest that the "guns for defence" argument does not hold up - that guns in the home are far more likely to injure or kill a family member or friend than an attacker.


    Guns, like cars, are dangerous, and that is why I support mandatory gun insurance.


    There are no overnite solutions, but making guns more expensive will over time reduce the number of guns in homes.
    17 Jan 2013, 10:03 AM Reply Like
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