Economix: Listing Gun Owners Might Help Criminals

June 1st, 2011

I have previously blogged about efforts in Illinois and New York to publish lists of gun owners, and noted that such a list would provide a criminal with an easy-to-access list of unarmed families. Easy picking.

The Economix blog has some more on this point:

Economists know that information affects criminal activity – that crime is reduced when criminals see a greater likelihood that they will be caught or that they would face a stiffer penalty when convicted. As in other areas of activity, studies show that criminal behavior is, on average, sensitive to the costs and benefits of committing a crime.

Potential victims recognize this sensitivity and take steps to protect themselves. Sometimes they install locks and alarms, knowing that criminals may get through them but would rather spend their effort on another victim who is less well protected.

Just as most criminals would rather avoid locks and alarms, many of them would rather commit their crime without being shot by a victim brandishing a firearm. Without access to a gun-owner database, criminals in Illinois may expect that any victim might use a firearm for defense.

Making the list public would also permit criminals to select victims who do not appear on the gun-owner list, to lower the odds that their victim has a firearm for self-defense.

Some criminals intend to steal guns. A public gun-owner list would help them, too. Either way, the public gun-owner list gives criminals choices — to choose a gun owner or a nonowner, whichever better serves their purpose.

When it comes to Illinois’s gun-owner database, both gun owners and nonowners can benefit from privacy.

The purposes of these lists is not to prevent crime–they won’t. Those who ignore the registry are the same people who have illegal guns. By definition, those with unregistered firearms (the only legal types in New York and Illinois) would never register. The only people to have their names on the list are law-abiding citizens; the very people society has the least to worry about (See the Constitutionality of Social Cost).

The purpose of these acts is to stigmatize gun ownership, and place firearm owners on a stage as those society needs to keep an eye on (similar logic as sex offender lists).