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Elliott Morss has spent most of his career teaching and working as an economic consultant to developing countries on issues of trade, finance, and environmental preservation.

Dr. Morss received a B.A. from Williams College in 1960 and a Ph.D. in political economy from The Johns Hopkins ... more

The Las Vegas Massacre: What Should Be Done?

Date: Thursday, October 5, 2017 11:53 AM EDT

Elliott R. Morss                           ©All Rights Reserved


With 59 dead and over 500 injured in Las Vegas by a single gunman, the cries to make guns illegal have started again. But as in the past, the anti-gun groups will not succeed. The gun supporters will point out that automatic weapons are already illegal. If any progress is to be made, attention should first be given to how the US controls its major killers and decide what works and does not.

Major Killers

Table 1 provides data on leading US killers among preventable methods. Smoking remains at the top of most lists although many would claim obesity is the source of even more. Drinking remains serious and deaths from the opioid epidemic have grown rapidly in recent years. Motor vehicle deaths have recently jumped, in large part because of the “entertainment centers” that auto companies are placing on dashboards. About half of gun deaths are suicides.

Table 1. – Major Killers in the US

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI.

There are several points to be made about Table 1. Mass shootings get a lot of press relative to the other killers. Gun Tracker collects data on mass shootings. So far this year, it records 346 deaths and about 1,500 injuries in mass shootings. Not many, but look at the press Las Vegas is getting.

It is notable that only opioids are illegal. And why is that? In part, it is because in the US, making something illegal for which there is a demand is futile. It will be supplied by a criminal element. Look at how the demand for opioids turned doctors into criminals. The conclusion for guns: even if the gun supporters/NRA allowed guns to be made illegal (they won’t), gangs selling guns illegally would emerge overnight.

The US allows people to smoke even though 480,000 Americans die from smoking annually. There are age restrictions and cigarettes are taxed heavily. Should more be done? What? Make them illegal? Can you imagine how rapidly illegal suppliers would appear? Even obesity is the second leading killer, there are no government limits on food purchase. There are age restrictions on alcohol. As mentioned earlier, opioids are illegal and then there guns with minimal, ineffective restrictions.

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