Sunday, December 23, 2012

At What Cost?

So many decisions are made in our lives without asking the question "At what cost?". Sure we may put a monetary value on many things, but rarely do we spend the time to look beyond that.  Time's of crisis are notoriously bad for doing something without looking at the costs.  America is at that point now, with the shooting rampage in Newtown, CT, emotions are high. People are horrified. Something must be done!

Lots of  causes have been bandied forth: guns, video games, movies, mental health, etc. Unfortunately, there are too many people who are "experts" in all of these categories and not enough sensible talk from experts in any one of these categories.  So just a quick reminder, it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert in something.  That is roughly five years working full time.  I am not an expert in anything. A quick idiot check to perform is take someone's age, subtract 20, and then divide by 10.  This is the most number of subjects they can be an expert in. If they tell you otherwise, they are probably lying.

At what cost are the decisions we make going to have? Monetary costs are easy to figure. Alan Gottleib has proposed that we remove the "Gun Free Zone" in schools, thereby letting people with carry licenses the ability to carry on school property.  This costs no money.

The NRA and have proposed putting police officers in every school. I have seen estimates of the cost of this at $5 billion per year (but if this is in response to our children being more valuable than power plants or banks - are we going to expand this to putting a police officer in every day care? What about field trips, do we need a police officer on every field trip?)

Diane Feinstein is proposing a renewed assault weapons ban. If this is the same as the one we had from 1994 to 2004, then it essentially has zero cost.  Of course, several studies (including by the Department of Justice and the CDC) could either not make a conclusion for lack of evidence or found that the ban was ineffectual when it came to crime rates. So some have proposed not having weapons grandfathered and the definition expanded.  Assuming this would affect 100 million weapons, and the government was going to pay a fair price for the confiscation of private property, and all owners turned their weapons in, this would have a cost of upwards of $50 billion.

Finally, some people want the confiscation of all guns.  This has basically been done in the UK and Australia.  Once again assuming a fair price and all guns get turned in, we are looking at a $150 billion.  These are all direct economic costs.  Money that would have to be outlaid immediately.

What about indirect costs? Banning guns (in any amount) will result in reduced economic activity for that industry.  4-5 million new firearms are sold each year, the vast majority of this is in the civilian market in the US. Cutting this number from a ban is going to result in lost jobs in the firearms industry. Do we ignore their plight because this is for the children?

Putting police in every school is going to require hiring of approximately 100,000 new officers.  That is 100,000 people who now cannot be used to make widgets, serve your dinner, answer phones, etc.  Right now in our economy, this isn't a problem with unemployment as high as it is, but what about when the economy is doing good?

Allowing teachers to go armed could have an increase in accidental deaths and injuries.  How much? Well, we know what the current numbers are, and the vast majority of them happen while hunting or target shooting.  Which makes perfect sense, getting injured in a firearm accident is only going to happen when you are manipulating a loaded firearm.  Since any armed teachers wouldn't be fiddling with their firearm, it would be sitting snugly in their holster, I would guess that the increased injury and deaths would be approximately equal to what you find at any sheriff's office or police station (not the shooting range), in other words near zero.

Would any of the policies above do anything? Letting teachers go armed would allow for a greater chance that an armed responder was on site in the first seconds of the shooting.  This doesn't necessarily prevent any shooting from happening, but the statistics show that less people die when an armed responder is there. Plus it would remove the "Gun Free Zone" target from our schools, where almost every mass shooting has occurred.

Putting police in the schools would have nearly the same effect as above. Although now you have a visible armed target (probably the only one in the school). So, he will be the first one targeted by a mass shooter (he'll also be the best prepared to defend himself). Unfortunately, if he dies, the school is once again at the mercy of the shooter.

The AWB will do nothing without confiscation.  CT had an AWB, the weapons used complied with it. Complete confiscation would probably just turn the incident from a shooting to a stabbing, explosion or fire. Defenseless victims (particularly children) are no match for lightly armed, young males.

Are you willing to protect your children at any cost? If you answered yes, you're lying. It is evident in the decisions you make everyday.  The car you drive, the cleaning products you use, even the home you live in.  All of them are filled with risks that injure and kill children daily. The fact that you don't wash and disinfect your hands after coming home from work, the gym, or even your friend's house, has the potential to spread germs that could kill your kids.  The simple fact is, there are risks in life, we accept them. We even accept them on behalf of our children. The child who dies from drinking cleaning fluid is no less dead than the victims of Newtown, CT.  And certainly to the families involved, it is no less tragic.

Before you advocate for doing something, ask yourself, "At what cost?" Then after examining things beyond just money, ask whether it should be universally applied (after the next mass shooting of kids in a park, are we going to have police stationed at every park in America?). If the answer is no, then look back and justify why it should be done for this narrow situation. Finally, don't ever be so pretentious as to think the problem will be solved.  Evil people know no bounds.    

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