‘Bootleggers’ and Gun Control
In 1983, Regulation published Bruce Yandle’s seminal article, “Bootleggers and Baptists: The Education of a Regulatory Economist.” In it, he describes how two interest groups, acting independently, can work toward a common policy goal. One is motivated by high-minded concerns, while the other is driven by narrow self-interest, and that allows politicians to adopt the language of the former while furthering the interests (and receiving the gratitude) of the latter. U.S. federal gun control is an excellent example of Yandle’s model in action. Cyclical periods of rising street crime coupled with infamous acts of violence perpetrated by gangsters, assassins, mass murderers, and rioters have repeatedly spurred private calls for gun control at the national level. Under the guise of fighting crime, those efforts have ultimately led to restraints on foreign-made firearms and the sale of military surplus weapons—restraints that benefit U.S. firearm manufacturers.