Civilians and Assault Rifles: An Economist’s Perspective

Why don’t those who insist on, and benefit from the policies they propose pay for the damage those policies cause?

Let’s begin with assault rifles. Saturday’s devastating attack at an Orlando night club is a classic example: 49 people were killed and some 50 more wounded in attack by a single shooter with an assault rifle — an AR-15 — and a five shot pistol.

It is hard for me to understand the value of anyone having an assault rifle in a civilian setting. I am not challenging the value of owning a pistol for self-protection or a rifle for hunting game or for target and sport shooting. An assault rifle is something else entirely. Yet there are those who are against prohibiting anyone from having one, or placing any restrictions on those who do.

What we saw Saturday, and in the numerous incidents that preceded it, is a civilian using an assault rifle to kill and injure a large number of individuals. The loss is painful to victim’s families, loved ones, friends, the community of which they are a part, and to all of us. Moreover, the community, including those of us who are opposed to allowing anyone outside a military setting to have an assault rifle, must bear the cost of the damage caused to the victims and the injured.

It seems reasonable to me that those who benefit from such policies such as: the manufacturers of the assault rifles, clips and ammunition; the wholesalers and retailers who supply them to the public; the Gun Lobby that promotes that position; and all those in favor of it, should be the ones to pay for any damages.

Those damages include reimbursement for

• The death, pain and suffering of the victims and those, who by their very presence at the time, were affected by the incident

• The first responders; the police, including the costs for the subsequent investigation and prosecution; and any personnel and facilities that provided assistance after the incident

• The hospitals and the medical and support personnel who treated the victims, including those who require follow-up psychological support

• Those who donated blood, including reimbursement for their time

• Any other costs that are the direct result of the shooting incident

None of those costs would have been incurred if the incident had not happened. And it would not have happened in the way it did if the assault rifle and the ammunition were not in the perpetrator’s hands.

Therefore, those who promoted a policy that made the incident possible should take responsibility for it and cover the costs that their position made possible.  The rest of us who are opposed to allowing civilians to have assault rifles should not have to bear those costs.

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