Article: Don’t Ban Assault Weapons – Tax Them
I’ve said before (here and here) that subtle racism largely fuels the calls for greater financial burdens on firearm owners and buyers. Any financial barrier to the exercise of a right is no better than the poll taxes that were outlawed with the 24th Amendment.
So why are gun control advocates continually proposing additional financial burdens when the greatest effect they’ll have is on marginalized populations who need their Second Amendment rights the most? Again, because of an underlying racism they fail to see is there.
And that racism comes out in two ways: believing only well-off whites own firearms, and ignoring the fact most gun crime in the United States is committed by blacks. And that most gun crime is also committed by people illegally in possession of firearms, and who have zero interest in submitting to any additional laws.
In other words, like most gun control ideas out there, Saul Cornell’s idea of taxing “assault weapons” is racist and punishes the innocent.
Few Americans realize that guns and ammunition are already taxed to pay for conservation efforts. Gun owners have happily tolerated federal taxes for years to support this worthwhile public-policy goal.
A lot of people are completely ignorant about taxation, and Cornell appears to be no exception to this. There are various types of taxes levied against the United States economy.
The tax Cornell is referring to specifically is authorized by the Pittman-Robertson Act, officially known as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. And it’s an excise tax, meaning levied only at manufacture, and paid only by those in the business of manufacturing firearms and ammunition for sale. The funds from the tax are distributed to the States for conservation efforts. Hunting and fishing license fees serve the same purpose.
But Cornell isn’t proposing an excise tax on “assault weapons”. His article seems to be proposing ownership taxes in the same way we have property taxes on houses and vehicles.
Taxation sidesteps entirely the constitutional qualms some have over assault-weapons bans.
The Pittman-Robertson Act is constitutional only in the same way that sales taxes are constitutional. People who buy firearms and ammunition through retailers still pay the required sales taxes at the point of sale unless the purchase is online through an out-of-State retailer – with all applicable laws and regulations observed.
It also addresses the criticism often voiced that singling out assault weapons is irrational because it would leave hunting rifles that have many of the same features on the streets.
Yes it’ll address that criticism, but that isn’t a criticism lobbied against the assault weapon bans. The criticism lobbied is that it goes after a tiny minority in gun violence.
Assault weapons, in general parlance, are typically defined to include a typical, off-the-shelf AR-15. Indeed that, along with the AK variants also commonly-available and owned, seems to be the only firearm in mind when talking about “assault weapons”. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, consistently year-over-year, handguns account for the vast, vast majority of gun violence in the United States. Not rifles or shotguns, but handguns.
Yet no proposal by the gun control advocacy groups addresses this. Why is that? Racism.
Again the majority of gun crimes are committed by blacks, the majority of gun crime victims are also black, and the firearm used in those crimes is almost exclusively handguns. Yet consistently the greatest calls for gun control aren’t about addressing gun crime in the inner cities, but mass shootings that largely affect white kids – the vast majority of mass shooting victims in high-profile mass homicide events (such as Las Vegas) are white.
Moreover, gun bans do not address the problem posed by guns already in private possession. Rather than requiring an expensive buyback program, gun taxation would use a market-based strategy to reduce the number of guns in circulation by effectively raising the price of ownership.
And here we see that he isn’t proposing an additional excise tax, a tax at the point of manufacture. And I can show why he isn’t doing that.
First is the mention of firearms already in private possession. Meaning he’s proposing one of two things: property taxes on already-existing firearms, or additional point-of-sale or excise taxes on ammunition for “assault weapons”.
The latter won’t work, I’m pretty sure he knows it won’t work.
The AR-15 is chambered for one of several rounds: .22LR, .223 Remington, 5.56 NATO, or .300 Blackout. But none of those rounds is unique to the AR-15, and you can find other rifles – and handguns in the case of the .22LR – chambered for those rounds. So attempting to levy an additional excise or point-of-sale tax on those rounds as part of taxing “assault weapons” will end up affecting those who don’t own what is commonly called an “assault weapon”.
And there are carbine rifles that would fit the definition of “assault weapon” that don’t use the common rifle rounds. As an example are carbine rifles chambered for the 9x19mm Parabellum, also called the 9mm Luger or just “9mm”. So additional point-of-sale or excise taxes on the 9mm Luger will vastly affect pistol owners more than those who own the carbines.
Nor is this a “market-based strategy”. Taxation doesn’t work with a market, it works against a market. A market-based strategy would be a massive advertising campaign that convinces the millions of people who already own AR-15s to give them up or avoid acquiring more. Taxation circumvents the market in much the same way as an “assault weapon” ban.
Another advantage of using taxation instead of gun bans is that such a policy would provide an opportunity to reward the vast majority of American gun owners who already engage in safe gun practices. Tax policies could offer tax deductions for the purchase of gun safes or for the cost of safety courses. Weapons stored at federally licensed firing ranges or hunting lodges might incur no tax. But if you wanted the convenience of having such a weapon at home, you could be taxed for the privilege.
And now we see the underlying agenda. This isn’t about rewarding gun owners, this is about registration and creating a census on gun owners. By having a line-item deduction on tax forms for “safe gun practices”, this would be the start of a census on who owns guns.
This approach has the additional advantage of shifting the debate away from an argument over rights and moving it where it belongs—toward structuring a set of policies that protects gun owners’ rights and lowers the negative costs that gun ownership imposes on the rest of society.
Protects gun owner’s rights? No, this is about taxing rights in a fashion similar to how the Crown taxed paper, literally taxed paper, with the Stamp Act of 1765. You want a tax as a barrier to the exercise of rights to disincentives lawful citizens from exercising their rights while doing nothing to address those who actually are a problem.
Taxation offers another advantage: It might overcome some of the fear of gun confiscation.
Not even close. That you included tax deductions for “safe gun practices” means you don’t see how that could lead to confiscation. Again the deduction would be the start of creating a census of gun owners. You desperately want direct taxation on gun owners as back-door registration or census taking of gun owners. Don’t even try to say otherwise.
As such, it won’t assuage any fears of confiscation. If anything, it’ll enhance it.
One of the many dysfunctional aspects of our modern gun debate is that we have framed the issue exclusively in terms of rights. Thinking of gun ownership in this way is neither hardwired into our constitutional system nor rooted in founding-era practices.
Actually it very, very much is. Anyone familiar with the history of the militias during the American Revolution knows this. Which means Cornell isn’t familiar with that history.
The first militia act, which required those eligible to serve in the militia to purchase their own firearms, was in essence a tax.
By what definition? And such a law today would not be constitutional since the right to keep and bear arms also includes the right to decide to not keep and bear arms.
The problem was not that Americans did not own firearms—levels of gun ownership in America were much higher than in England—but that most Americans did not want military-style weapons. Such guns were relatively heavy, and not especially suited to shooting the critters that ate their crops or to hunting birds.
Wow, you really need to read on the history of firearms in the United States.
Until the 20th century, the weapons owned and kept by private individuals were much the same weapons, if not the exact same weapons, kept by the military. The only notable exceptions on that mark are field artillery units (e.g. cannons and Gatling guns). Even private merchant vessels had cannons to defend against pirates, with the need for merchant vessels to be armed lessening as piracy lessened.
It was not until the 20th century when there started to be any kind of distinction of “military-style weapons” with the development and increased commonality of full-auto firearms in military combat. The first truly full-auto firearm, known as the Maxim gun, wasn’t developed until 1885, well after the Civil War. The first full-auto rifle was the Cei-Rigotti, introduced in 1900, but never adopted by any military.
The first commercially-successful full-auto firearm was the Browning Automatic Rifle, which saw use in the First World War. Like the Gatling gun, though, the Browning Automatic Rifle and Maxim gun are considered field artillery, not infantry artillery. The Nazis would actually develop the first full-auto infantry rifle.
But throughout the history of the United States, the rifles and muskets commonly used by the military were much the same, if not the exact same, as the rifles and muskets owned by civilians. It wasn’t until the development of fully-automatic weapons that there started to be separation in that.
And that separation applied only to rifles. That separation never applied to pistols.
There is no pistol used by the military that was never in civilian hands. Some pistols were developed first for the military, but they eventually made it to civilian ownership. The two most common pistols in the United States for much of the 20th century are the M1911 (or just “1911”) and the Beretta M9 (called the Beretta 92 in civilian markets). After the introduction of the M1911, the military stopped carrying revolvers. Today Glock reigns as the most commonly-owned civilian and law-enforcement pistol, though it was never adopted by the United States Armed Forces as a sidearm.
And the Second Amendment is the reason for that continued parity between civilian and military arms. The Second Amendment, in a nutshell, basically enshrines the ability for the people to defend themselves. Even if they need to defend themselves against their own government.
Your attempt to rewrite the history of firearms and the Second Amendment is shameful in the kindest terms.
Taxation offers a more flexible set of tools to achieve a goal all Americans seek: lowering the costs of gun violence to Americans.
Taxing rights is not constitutional. And that is what Cornell is seeking to do: tax people who exercise their Second Amendment rights. Again, this is like the South enacting poll taxes to discourage and prevent blacks from exercising the vote.
The problem is Cornell doesn’t really fully spell out what his tax policy would be. What, specifically, would be taxed and how? His article provides a couple implications that he’d want property taxes on firearms and, likely, ammunition, given his statement about taxation being a strategy, not “market-based” as he asserts, “to reduce the number of guns in circulation by effectively raising the price of ownership.”
The only way to reduce the number of firearms already in private possession is to confiscate them. Increasing the price of ammunition won’t do that – people didn’t just sell their firearms during the 2013 ammo scares and shortages following Sandy Hook. And taxation carries with it two tools for enforcement: liens and incarceration. In other words, those who don’t pay the tax could have their firearms seized and/or be incarcerated.
That statement alone means he isn’t proposing an excise tax like the one provided by the Pittman-Robertson Act. He’s proposing property taxes, with the registration to go with it for enforcement of those taxes, and the confiscation and (likely) incarceration that comes with noncompliance. Completely in contradiction to his assertion that taxation would allay fears of confiscation.
This is why I say there is racism underlying any gun control proposal. Any new anti-gun policies are most likely to be enforced against blacks. And the fact gun control proponents refuse to acknowledge that reality is quite telling. Since it shows that they seem to have only white gun owners in mind in making these proposals, since they not only know that whites are more law-abiding, but also more likely to just surrender to the new laws.
While blacks are just going to get locked up.