Yves here. The headline of an article at NBC says it all: Small-Bore? President Obama’s Actions on Guns Make Marginal Changes. Michael Olenick proposed a more effective approach…of a type that curiously has been absent from proposals on how to curb gun ownership.
This post first ran on December 17, 2012
By Michael Olenick, a regular contributor on Naked Capitalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @michael_olenick
Twenty children the same age as my daughter and her friends, plus another six adults trying to protect them, lie dead, murdered by guns. Adding insult to injury the families and community the guns destroyed will now – just like every other gun rampage – be handed a price tag.
I understand that a deranged murderer pulled the trigger, and that he could have theoretically gone on a killing rampage with knives, but it is hard to believe so many could or would have been dead before the police arrived. Guns killed these people.
Rather than parsing the Second Amendment one more time there is an easier approach, one typically favored by conservative gun owners for other public policy issues: end cost-shifting. Force those who chose to own guns to bear the full cost of the mayhem their hobby unleashes. Ending the gun subsidies will eventually end the gun violence.
Families of the victims should be compensated from a fund owned by a tax on guns and ammunition, as should the cost of all gun-related law enforcement for this and every other gun related crime. When guns leave a victim disabled the fund should pay for their care for life. When that victim leaves a family with less income, or no income, the fund should pay. When neighborhoods are besieged by gun violence the gun fund will pay for enough police protection to stabilize the area. Every cost of gun violence should be shifted back to those who choose to participate in the gun economy.
Gun owners have displaced the massive cost of their hobby – and, no, guns are virtually never used for legitimate self-defense – to everybody else. It is time for this subsidy to end.
Gun owners should pay taxes when a gun is sold, no matter where it is sold, then another for ongoing registration fees, and yet another for ammunition. Failure to pay the tax – or to show tax stamps that a weapon is up-to-date on tax payments – would result in the tax plus steep penalties. Guns could be turned in for fair market value, paid for by the gun fund, and of course those that don’t pay the tax would have all their weapons, including the ones paid for, immediately seized for past-due gun tax.
This solution does not violate the Second Amendment: people are still free to own all the guns they want; they just have to pay full freight for the cost of guns to society. There’s an easy opt-out method for those who cannot pay: turn in one’s guns – for their one-way trip to the smelter – and the gun fund will even deliver up some money, no questions asked.
Many guns are illegally traded but by allowing law enforcement to demand up-to-date tax stamps these can be quickly seized. Further, by requiring the steep tax be paid when a gun is sold, no matter where it is sold, gun runners have a strong disincentive to buy them in bulk at trade shows from states with lax gun control laws because they’ll be too expensive.
As the number of gun and ammunition sales dwindles fewer gun owners will be responsible for the enormous cost of gun ownership, which some estimates put at $100 billion yearly: let’s end the free-ride for gun-owners. This will drive up the tax for the remainder and launch a virtuous cycle of ever fewer gun and ammunition sales.
Right-wing politicians seem to have equal zeal for taxation based on use and against cost-shifting, so it will be interesting to hear them defend why non gun owners should subsidize the massive cost of widespread gun ownership. I can’t wait to hear the Tea Baggers explain why the cost of open gun ownership should be externalized to the families of the slain children, those who survived, and all the other terrorized first graders, teachers, and parents in the country.
I realize that to many people their guns are precious. Guess what: I think my first-grade daughter is precious too. I think her friends are also precious, as are all the little kids killed that look just like them. I know it’s brazen but I’m even willing to say our kids are a hell of a lot more precious than your guns.
As for your delusional fantasies, they’re just that, whereas our nightmares are very real. No, the United Nations is not going to take over the United States; that simply will not happen. But, yes, there is a chance that your first-grader can be murdered in school by guns: that is a genuine possibility. No, those two narratives do not “compete” – one is based on genuine fear, the other is utter bullshit.
If Nancy Lanza had to pay $50/bullet and $10,000 per year per gun it’s safe to say twenty children and six adults, plus Nancy herself – even her rampaging son – would be alive today. Families would be wrapping presents for their kids, not the bullet-ridden bodies of those same kids. Nancy Lanza was apparently a suburban survivalist and maybe I am too, advocating that we survive by finally neutering paranoid gun enthusiasts.
We can’t effectively outlaw guns for both legal and political reasons, but we can force gun owners to pay for the carnage they collectively cause society. This solution would quickly result in the seizure and destruction of a massive amount of firearms. Even opening the debate, in an economic rather than legal or political context, might have the same effect as throwing cold water on a stumbling drunk.
I do not believe the right to own guns trumps the right of children to grow up, and I’m sick of subsidizing those who do. We can’t legally or pragmatically pry the guns out of their hands, but we can definitely pry the money out of their pockets to ensure they pay the full cost of their carnage. No need to take their guns: it’s easier to take their paychecks and trucks until they turn the guns over.
Unless a copycat decides to take out her own first grade class my daughter will eventually grow up, and maybe have a daughter of her own. When she drops her daughter off at school she should know for certain that the last sound of the day will be a school bell, not a gun blast.
Like every parent I mourn for the children, for those who lost their children, those whose children who survived physically but are likely to be emotionally scarred for life, and the premature loss of innocence for first graders.