Bryan Caplan  

Policy Beliefs and Policy Preferences: The Case of Guns

Free Education Valued at Cost... Policing Economic Illiteracy...

Donald Wittman says that it doesn't matter if people have systematically biased beliefs about policy. Why not? Because even if you fixed their misconceptions, their policy preferences would remain unchanged.

In an earlier post, I showed that he's wrong for the minimum wage. Even though 80% want to raise the minimum wage, only 40% would do so "if it resulted in fewer jobs available to low paid workers in this country."

Now I've come across analogous survey results for gun control. In the GSS, 70.6% agree that "There should be more legal restrictions on handguns in our society." However, only 62.9% of gun control supporters would continue to support gun control if "research proves that more legal restrictions on handguns would increase violent crime."

I've got to admit that I'm surprised that support for gun control is so resilient. (Maybe respondents just refuse to accept the hypothetical?) But even so, if you do the math, you'll find that if beliefs about the effects of gun control changed, support for gun control would fall from 70.6% to 44%. Looks like Wittman is wrong again.

P.S. What if research proves that gun control reduces violent crime? Then support for gun control rises to 82%.

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
CS writes:

The gun control supporters who are undeterred by a hypothetical increase in violent crime may believe that:

1. Reduced use of guns in suicide outweighs the change in crime.
2. Ditto for accidental shootings (especially children playing with guns).
3. The change will increase the safety of presently unarmed citizens (including children, those with poor vision, etc) at the expense of armed citizens, although net effect is a reduction in average safety. Armed citizens can no longer stop an attack by brandishing a weapon, but the unarmed face a world with fewer guns. Of course, if gun ownership (plausibly) has positive externalities in the form of general deterrence, this need not hold.

triticale writes:

Reduced access to guns has not been shown to reduce suicide; people turn to other means. The only proven effect of the so-called Brady Bill is a shift from shooting to hanging among older suicides with no change in the total.

Accidental shootings (especially children playing with guns) are going down as gun ownership is going up. Education is the key factor. The NRA offers a program called "Eddie The Eagle" which if widely implemented would eliminate most of the trivial number of accidental shootings of children.

The presumption of increased overall safety is based on the fallacious notion that disarming the law-abiding would make potential attackers less dangerous.

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