USA Today Measures The Social Cost of the Second Amendment With Handy Infographics!

March 22nd, 2013

Back when I was in college, there were vending machines that gave out free copies of the New York Times, the USA Today, and the local State College paper. I often picked up a USA Today, and admired the cool infographics (I don’t think that was even a word back in 2005) to explain stuff.

In a recent feature, USA Today tries to explain the social costs of the Second Amendment, in terms of the “overall costs,” the “costs to society,” and the “cost to government” with snazzy pie charts.

Here are the overall costs. $153 billion from fatalities, $16 from hospital costs, and $4 billion for emergency departments.


Here are the “Costs to Society Per Firearm Fatality,” impacting quality of life, work loss, criminal justice, and “other.”


Here are the “Costs to government per firearm fatality.” I’m not sure how this is different from Cost to Society, as “Criminal Justice” is listed under both. It seems to the USA Today that government and society are one in the same (and easy enough mistake to make).


Despite the infographics best efforts at capturing the social costs of the Second Amendment, they omitted a very, very important cost.

As I wrote in the Judging the Constitutionality of Social Cost, there are two competing, and indeed reciprocal types of social costs for any right: liberty costs, and safety costs. ” First, liberty costs, refer to the risk of negative externalities to society as a whole that can result from individuals exercising liberty. Second, safety costs, refer to the risk of negative externalities to individual liberty that can result from the state providing for collective safety.”

The infographics focus exclusively on the liberty costs, that is the cost of exercising the individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course, there is an attenuation between owning a firearm (legal) and using it to kill someone else (illegal), but I’ll put that side for now.

The infographics are entirely devoid of the safety costs, that is the harm to individual liberty that results from the state limiting access to firearms. The most obvious cost is the ability of a person to defend himself or herself from a threat (and more broadly reductions in crime from firearm ownership). This cost, though more subtle (as I describe it, unseen), is the cost to our society of limiting freedom (see pp. 8-13 of the article).

I will try to prepare that article (which I wrote solely for my job talk) for maybe an August submission. There’s some good stuff there that is still relevant.