In times past, our reaction to mass shootings follow a very specific and recognizable cycle which includes initial public and private expressions of sorrow, call for gun control reform, congressional stalemate (or total disregard) and no change.  Might this time be different?  Might we finally be at a tipping point?

By definition, a tipping point is a point in time when a group--or a large number of group members--rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice. [1]  What's interesting, that large group may not need to be all that large. 

In fact, scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute[2] (where I earned a master's degree and was part of the adjunct faculty for more than 20 years) have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists at Rensselaer used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications on the influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals - like those surrounding our country's gun debate.

What's Different This Time?

There seems to be a more grassroots effort aimed at changing gun laws this time around. If we consider the courageous and ambitious youth movement being spearheaded by the Parkland, Florida high school students and couple it with the fact that industry leading companies like Dick's Sporting Goods and Delta Air Lines are weighing in with changes to their company's policies, it is possible that we may have reached the time where gun law changes are inevitable...And, why not?

Stiffer gun laws would likely have little economic impact on the gun industry, the cost of enacting better controls can be easily paid for and most Americans want stricter laws.

What Is The Economic Impact of Stricter Gun Controls?

It's not that hard to speculate on what the subject of any prospective new gun laws might be.   All or some combination, of these 5 ideas would probably be at the center of any future regulation:

  1. Ban Assault Rifles
  2. Improve Background Checks
  3. Outlaw Bump Stocks
  4. Raise Gun Ownership Age
  5. Restrict Magazine Size

If we map these 5 ideas against the following simple facts about the U.S. gun industry:

  • U.S. firearms and ammunition is  an over $50 billion industry
  • It employs over 300,000 people
  • About 30 percent of U.S. adults own guns
  • Assault rifles account for less than 3% of firearms owned in the U.S.

You would likely draw the conclusion that enacting stiffer gun controls would have little to no impact on the industry that manufactures firearms and ammunition.  In fact, what little industry impact that might be felt, could easily be offset through the introduction of other new and innovative gun products (like those aimed at delivering improved safety).

Of course, new laws cost money.

Who Would Pay for the Enactment of the New Laws?

The only noticeable costs associated in any of these recommendations would be those related to background check systems improvements, which could easily be funded by a slight bump in income tax (e.g., Australia temporarily bumped its income tax by only 1% to pay for its gun law implementation, which was a far more extensive and radical program that included buying back guns) or the collection of a higher gun sales tax (i.e., similar to our existing luxury tax which puts a 10 percent luxury surcharge tax on boats over $100,000, cars over $30,000, aircraft over $250,000, and furs and jewelry over $10,000).

Of course, I'd advocate for later because I don't happen to believe that the 70% of Americans who don't own guns should have to pay for 30% of Americans who do.  Regardless, improvements in the background system could easily be funded and, if they were to be improved, those improvements could serve to save a lot of innocent people additional heartache.

But, What About Our Rights?

We certainly could have a debate about whether putting gun control laws in place would lead to the overturning of the 2nd Amendment.

But, let's not!

If enacted, none of the 5 ideas outlined above would abolish the right of the people to keep and bear arms

So, let's not use the 2nd Amendment as the reason to avoid putting stiffer gun controls in place.

Instead, let's consider that the vast majority of Americans want improved gun control laws (i.e., The latest Quinnipiac University National Poll, published last week, showed that American voters support stricter gun laws by a whopping 66 - 31 percent, the highest level of support ever measured, with 50 - 44 percent support among gun owners and 62 - 35 percent support from white voters with no college degree and 58 - 38 percent support among white men)[3] and let's figure out how to work together to get that done.

To close, we don't know for sure if we are at the tipping point in the gun control debate in the United States, nor are we able to predict the exact business impact of additional controls.  But, if the scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are correct when they suggest that it takes only 10 percent of the population to hold an unshakable belief for that belief to be adopted by the majority of the society, then we just may be at the point where we can begin to make meaningful changes in our gun laws.   

Published on: Mar 5, 2018
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