Gary Becker pursues a consistent market-driven approach to gun control in the US in the face of recent massacres – increase taxes on guns sold legally and increase penalties on black market purchases of guns and on criminal activities involving gun use. This would mean that most guns would tend to be sold via legal markets and reduced quantities demanded would have feedback effects of further reducing demands because of reduced ‘arms race’ pressures.
John Lott comments on the proposal arguing that it assumes a negative externality to owning weapons. He claims there is a positive externality since gun ownership limits crime. This claim will be controversial but it reflects the 'arms race' idea - ordinary citizens buy guns to protect themselves from criminals with guns.
Richard Posner argues politely - though I think in opposition to Becker’s message - that gun ownership in the US is primarily a cultural not an economically-driven phenomenon best dealt with by means of public information campaigns.
My own view is that both information and tax policies need to address the issue of gun use just as they are appropriate for managing licit drugs such as alcohol which have harmful external effects in terms of domestic violence and innocent car accident deaths. One suggestion, made in relation to alcohol policies, is to penalise strongly the activities that occur because of the use of alcohol rather than taxing alcohol itself heavily. In terms of the gun debate this suggests supporting Becker’s idea for hefty penalties on crimes involving use of firearms.