America’s guns


300 million free citizens can’t be wrong.  Right?

To someone from a peaceful country, Americans’ “mystical” love for guns feels like a deathwish.

There’s over 200 million guns in America. These cause nearly 31,000 gun deaths annually, of which 40% are homicide. 60-65 million of the guns are handguns, which account for 75 % of homicides.  

Australia racks up around 250 gun deaths annually, a rate of 12.5 deaths per million.  America is on 100 deaths per million people.

I recommend the following link for some scary scenery!
Real Americans, in their homes, showing off their guns…

Why do they do it?  The right to bear arms comes from the following sentence in the second amendment to the American constitution : “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The sentence, like the best parts of any proper constitution, is totally confusing. There’s the clear call: for ‘well-regulated militias‘, then there’s the contradictory statement: ‘shall not be infringed‘ . Almost as if Jefferson, Madison, and Co. allowed enough space for future jurists to interpret the law in a way relevant for the time and place… 

So the debate rages on.  The gun lovers have the following slogan: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. It’s very appealing logic.

In game theory terms, gun laws might be a game in which two stable equilibriums are possible. You might be at a place where noone really has guns, and it feels safe, so you don’t want to change. For example, here in Australia, noone except farmers has guns. If guns are outlawed, noone except outlaw farmers will have guns. 

Or you might be in a place where everyone has guns, and it feels safe, so you don’t want to change…

It’s possible that America is at a level of gun saturation where going back will be impossible. No one wants to give up their guns unless they can be sure others will too. Because guns last basically for ever, there’s no way of getting rid of guns from the country altogether.  So even the peace-loving and the law abiding won’t give up their guns.

The fact that school shootings are the most common type of massacre underlines the point. There aren’t movie theatre shootings, or Walmart shootings because half the people in those places will be packing a little heat, for exactly this kind of situation. The shooter gets shot back faster than you can say ‘god bless America’. Mass shootings are most likely to happen in a little gun-free enclave within a broader gun culture.  Why make your own home a gun-free enclave?  

The inexorable logic comes with some significant downsides:

A gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used in a suicide than to kill or injure in self defense. Ninety percent of firearm suicide attempts are fatal, while only one in 30 suicide attempts using pills or cutting is fatal. Of kids who shoot themselves, 85 percent use a parent’s gun. (

But maybe they are stuck with it.  The bad guys won’t give up their guns, so there’s no way the good guys will give up theirs. Is there no way gun control can work in America? Over to you…

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

One thought on “America’s guns”

  1. you have to limit new guns and then fund a generous gun buyback. At the moment, too expensive politically and financially.


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