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Contact Us Fall 2001; Volume 2, Number 2
Feature: Violence and Healthcare

The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Gun Violence


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Where to Next?

Past investments in reducing gunshot injuries have had modest effects. However, the net benefit to society of these modest effects offers possible direction when evaluating gun legislation.
Data from the Kansas City Gun Experiment suggest that police patrols targeted against illegal gun carrying may be effective in reducing gun violence (Sherman, Shaw and Rogan, 1995). Unfortunately the exact magnitude of the program’s effects remain somewhat unclear. The treatment and comparison neighborhoods in the “experiment” may differ in other dimensions aside from receipt of the targeted police patrols. But under the most optimistic scenario, an investment of under $200,000 in additional police resources may have produced a reduction in gun violence with benefits of up to $22 to $100 million to society.

Our review also suggests that sentence enhancements for crimes committed with firearms appear to produce benefits in excess of costs, and that new gun regulations need to have only modest effects in order to generate net benefits to society. For example, one of the more promising regulations is to require that all new handguns be manufactured and sold with “personalized” technology, which makes the weapon inoperable by unauthorized users. This technology has the potential to save lives by making guns inoperable to children, despondent teens, or the criminals who are responsible for around 500,000 gun thefts each year (Cook and Ludwig, 1996).

The idea of mandating personalized gun technologies has been criticized in part because they will add to the price of new handguns. But if the personalized gun technology adds $100 to the purchase price of a new gun, this regulatory requirement will generate benefits that outweigh costs so long as the technology is able to prevent only one shooting per 10,000 units sold. Our best guess is that the effects of personalized gun technology should easily clear this bar, given that currently it appears that every 10,000 handguns sold are involved in about 3,000 robberies and assaults and 100 homicides (Roth and Koper, 1997).

Our bottom line is that we accept as a general principle the notion that some gun-oriented interventions may not be worthwhile even if they save lives. But in practice the costs of gun violence to society appear to be large enough to justify additional investments in reducing gunshot injuries.


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Jens Ludwig, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. Philip J. Cook, Ph.D., is the Director of Duke University's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy and Chair of the Department of Public Policy Studies.
Spring 2001, Volume 2, Number 1
Table of Contents
Editor's Note
Features: Violence and Healthcare
Gun Violence
Health Highlights
In Focus

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