The Flinchum File

Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions
Subscribe to the Flinchum File
View Archives

Guns and Lunatics

I like guns.  I own several.  I even have my father’s old shotgun.  I am very experienced with them.   I also have a concealed weapons permit and usually carry one in my car with me.  I feel safer with guns than without them.  And, I genuinely think other people around me are safer because I have guns.

While I am probably a gun-lover, that does not mean I am a gun-nut.  I strongly believe in background checks before purchasing a gun and other reasonable safeguards.

Now, the juxtaposition of two news stories this week has made me think more about this.  First was obviously the tragedy in the Washington Navy Yard.  Some people just shouldn’t have guns.  Second was an op-ed column in The Virginian-Pilot about funding for mental health in this state.

Following the gun tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007, the state legislature wisely increased mental health funding $42 million, basking in the glory of doing the right thing.  Under cover of budget restraints, they then reduced it by $37.7 million in the dark of night.  At this point, we have the same number of state psychiatric beds as we did in 1850 despite the huge increase in the total population.  Is there no shame to having our mental health system graded as a D by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill?  We wouldn’t accept such a lousy education system.

Maybe, we need an identified funding stream for the mentally ill?  Since we gun-lovers insist on giving guns to every lunatic who wants one, we should bear some of the cost of caring for the lunatics by paying an extra tax on the sale of firearms, magazines, and ammunition.  Economists like to talk about “elasticity of demand” or how responsive is demand for a product to a change in price.  As a example, does the demand for cigarettes go down when the price goes up?  Surprisingly, no!  I suspect the demand to own guns is also inelastic or unresponsive to any change in price or tax.  Gun sales will not drop, and funding for mental health services will improve.

Besides, while the dollars raised to fund mental health are important, it is also important to more firmly link guns and mental health.  We gun-lovers should not ignore that relationship!

So, tax me . . . please!