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Guns for tickets

Pablo Halkyard led me to this story at ESPN :

The Philadelphia 76ers and police officials Tuesday announced a program aimed at curbing gun violence by exchanging tickets for guns.

The one-week program opens Wednesday. Anyone can bring a working gun into a city police station and exchange it for a voucher good for a pair of tickets to an upcoming 76ers game, no questions asked.

...The program is similar to one the 76ers ran in 1999. "Guns for Gear" brought in close to 900 guns in just three days.

Guns for tickets makes more sense than guns for gear. Since the 76ers are playing to half empty crowds this year, the opportunity cost of the ticket is near zero.

But the program strikes me as rather odd. How did this get past the marketing department? These programs don't help the NBA shake the gangsta image.... You take your seat at courtside, chat up the fellows next to you, being sure to drop the name of your corporate pal who gave you the tickets. Standard fare, until you find out that your neighbors have a surplus of old guns that no longer shoot straight, so why not take in the game? Could they be packin' with fresh tools, you wonder? Maybe promoting the gansta image is what the marketing department wants, but I'm skeptical.

So let's look at the economics of the program. Given market prices for tickets, only cheap guns - like the surplus guns above - would be brought in for exchange. A cold-blooded assassin's favorite weapon ain't gonna turn up.

The transactions costs of trading guns in the illegal market weaken this prediction somewhat. For example, a church-going ex-gang member might steer clear of his old buddies who represent the likely buyers of a gun which is no longer valued by him. Thus, this type represents a potential participant in the guns for tickets market. But again, this exchange would not destroy active weapons which are a threat to society.

On the marketing side, it is hard to see how this program helps the 76ers sell more tickets, or endear themselves to existing season ticket holders. From the economic side, it is hard to see a direct connection between the program and people who have a reason for either self-protection or killing someone else.

I'm left with the following conjecture: perhaps the 76ers can use tickets in a down season to gain support of public officials in need of a headline. Getting a few hundred guns "off the street" might make a politically useful, albeit ultimately empty claim for a police commissioner. And one can imagine that the cops have a plan to test-fire guns that fit a profile from unsolved homicides. Although a sensible killer is unlikely to turn in his weapon, these do change hands in various ways over time. An unsuspecting downstream gun-toter might go for the program, exchange such a gun, and create a fresh, if sketchy trail.

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