Get your gun license

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Should you apply for a gun license? Most people in the rationalist community think they should not. After all, it seems that America should have more gun control. However, the correct policy for the country and the correct policy for you can be different things. I’m not going to talk about the correct policy for the country, but I am going to try to convince you that you should get licensed yourself. Not buy a gun, or carry a gun, but just get a license to increase your range of options.

Gun ownership in Massachusetts requires a license. The process for getting a license in Boston takes a full year. You call and ask to be put on a waitlist, where you stay for 10 months. Then, you fill out an application and wait another month. Then, you get fingerprinted, the FBI does a background check, and you wait another month. Then, finally, you get a call saying that your license will be mailed, in another month. All these months add up to a serious lag between deciding you want a license and getting one.

The full cost of a license is $110, and licenses are valid for 6 years, so having the right to buy a gun costs around $20 a year (plus a one-time investment of around 2 hours of work to make your application, get fingerprinted, etc).

In a given year, how likely are you to want to be able to buy a gun? If you currently don’t want to own a gun, it’s reasonable to believe that you would continue not wanting to own a gun unless something changed. What things could change to make you want a gun? Maybe you get worried about people storming the Capital and trying to overturn an election, or other political unrest happens. Maybe the people who say they want a second Civil War accomplish some of their goals. Other than fear of political extremists, imagine a drop in American agricultural productivity, or a very severe drought, or anything else that could lead to civil unrest.

If you do end up wanting a gun, how much would you be willing to pay for it in that moment? That’s a hard question to answer, because it depends wildly on how much money you have available and why you want the gun. Someone with a million dollars in the bank would pay a lot of that money to get a gun if crime rates spiked massively, while someone who is near-broke would not pay much money for a license if they want to get a gun to shoot as a hobby. But maybe there is a 1% chance per year of you being willing to pay $2000 for a license. And having a license mitigates some of the long-tail of personal risk.

This is obviously not a conclusive argument that proves everyone in Massachusetts should get a license, but hopefully you consider it a slightly better idea than you did before.