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Bait and Switch

A Lesson in Exaggerating Benefits and Hiding Costs

by Sean Oberle

(Distribution permitted and encouraged. Please mention that you read it first on

Pro handgun ban Violence Policy Center recently had the following to say about the supposed monetary benefits of such a ban. (See

"If a handgun ban were enacted, what should be done about the existing supply of some 65 million civilian-owned handguns? Could the nation afford to eliminate them through a program? Since many handguns began as cheap 'junk guns,' a generous estimate of the average buy-back price would be $250. The total tab would be about $16.25 billion, which is slightly more than three SSN-21 nuclear attack submarines. Considering that by conservative estimates America spends $4 billion annually on medical care for gun violence victims, the cost of a buy-back could be recouped in a few years."

Zowie-Wowie – $4 billion saved in medical costs over 5 years is $20 billion! Ban those handguns now, and by 2005, we could run a surplus on this project. Imagine all the chickens in our pots and squiggly puppies for our children that the big beneficent gub'ment could provide.

Well, no.

First, the $16.25 billion cost of the ban is not the total cost. It is but a part – the "buy back" price.

VPC fails to consider:

** The cost to handle the collection of guns

** The cost of issuing tens of millions of checks or otherwise distribute the money

** The cost of destroying or storing the guns

** The cost of verifying that the ban is complete

** The cost of forcibly collecting guns that citizens (and criminals) refuse to turn in

** The cost of shutting down black market channels of new guns

** The cost of lost income tax as some workers in the firearm industry lose their jobs

** The cost of paying unemployment to some of those former firearm industry workers

** The cost of lost sales tax because handguns, accessories and some ammo will be forced into the untaxed black market

** The cost of emergency health care, hospitalization, lost work time, funeral provisions and many other costs associated with the increase in violent crimes as a result of disarming lawful people and leaving them as sitting ducks amidst violent criminals going through the revolving door criminal "justice" system

I've probably left out a bunch of costs myself, but you get the idea that VPC's $16.25 billion price tag would soar to hundreds of billions of dollars.

Second, the $4 billion a year savings is exaggerated. Foremost, VPC gets this figure from a 1995 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association which estimated the medical cost of gunshot for 1995 would be $4 billion based on 1990-1992 costs at a single California university hospital projected to the number of nationwide gunshots.

But where did the AMA writers get the number of likely gunshot wounds per year?

This projection was made in 1995 when the most recent available data represented the peak of gunshot events in 1993. We'd cut those rates by more than a third by 1998 (most recent data) and likely are approaching a 50% reduction today.

Thus, even factoring in increased costs of medical care, the real medical cost of gunshot *today* is much lower than that $4 billion projection because the number of gunshots is much lower than the 1993 benchmark.

Third, whether $4 billion or lower, that figure is the maximum *potential* savings, not the actual savings we'd see. The figure represent the extreme end of a spectrum from $0 to $4 billion. There is no way that we'd hit that extreme, and I believe that it is more likely to be rather close to the $0 end.

Here’s why -- each of the following factors would move us farther and farther from $4 billion:

** Some currently legal guns would remain in circulation and be involved in shootings

** A already-existing black market would expand, much like the drug trade has, and new illegal guns would be involved in even more shootings

** Some homicides and attempted homicides would occur anyway through weapon substitution

** Some "saved" gunshot victims will get sick or hurt anyway in manners unrelated to firearms, negating the money "saved" on their not getting shot

** Most of the firearm suicides and attempted suicides (more than half of all gunshots, incidentally) still would occur anyway through method substitution since people who shoot themselves are people who really want to die rather than are just crying for help

** Violence rates would rise, as always happens when a government ban creates a black market over which organized criminals fight

** Some people who would have protected themselves with guns would be hurt and hospitalized for lack of a weapon

And so on.

Thus, VPC's contention that the monetary cost of a gun ban would be made back in just a few years is absurd. It would take centuries. More likely, we'd never see the money recouped, and we'd make more than a one-time payment. Rather, the ban would follow the course of alcohol and drug prohibitions, in which the government spends billions of dollars year after year without success.

There are multiple line items on each side of this economic comparison, and VPC pretends there’s only one item on either side.

Talk about bait and switch. It’s as if a salesman tries to lure us in with a promise that if we make a one time payment of $4, we’ll stop paying $1 per year. But when we look at the fine print, we find out that we’ll really be spending over $100 per year indefinitely and be saving but a few cents a year.

And that leads me to where I always end up. It's all about saving lives.

We have only a limited amount of money to spend on saving lives no matter if we think "any amount is worth it." We had cut not only firearm-related violence but all violence by at least a third as of two years ago -- and are approaching 50% today.

If we enact a handgun ban that would divert hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of government workers, we would have to stop or severely limit the programs that actually are working for a lot less money.

That's the choice: Make ourselves feel safer with an astonishingly costly gun ban that is doomed to failure or make ourselves actually safer for less money by continuing with what we’re already found works.

Dischord is a recent and very welcome addition to our loosely knit group of writers at Other recent articles from Dischord include: Violence Policy Gambit, Gun Grabber Web Watch, and Grabber Gun Trauma: How the Marching Moms and Other Grabbers Victimize a Million Children.

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Quemadmoeum gladis nemeinum occidit, occidentis telum est ("A sword is never a killer, it's a tool in the killer's hands") — Lucius Annaeus Seneca "the younger" ca. (4 BC - 65 AD)

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