Can’t ban guns? Tax ammo through the roof

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 20, 2012

If you can’t ban guns, at least raise taxes on ammunition. By 100 per cent or even 500 per cent. The US would be a safer place and the gun lobby would have less reason to be up in arms.

Excuse the pun.

But the whole idea of taxing ammunition has an excellent pedigree. Back in Dec 1999, a very provincial Barack Obama, at the time no more than an Illinois state senator, was reported by the Chicago Defender newspaper to say that he was in favour of increasing “federal taxes by 500 percent on the sale of firearm, ammunition [sic] – weapons he says are most commonly used in firearm deaths.” The report went on to say that Obama made the proposal at an “anti-gun rally,” where he proposed a host of other gun control policies.

The report fed into the fear psychosis induced by America’s politically powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), which claimed, back in 2009 that the then newly elected President Obama would “increase federal taxes on guns and ammunition by 500 percent”. At the time, the NRA added that it was all an insidious part of what it called “Obama’s 10-Point Plan to ‘Change’ the Second Amendment.” That is Americans’ 221-year-old constitutional right to bear arms.

The Annenberg Policy Centre debunked the claims back in June 2009, saying it “found no record of Obama introducing legislation to this effect while in the Illinois state Senate, or in the U.S. Senate. Now, after further research, we can find no record of the president, or any other administration official, saying that an increase in the ammunition tax is part of his current agenda either.”

So far, so depressing. If Obama believes more guns in a system kill more people, why doesn’t he do something about it? Realpolitik? Perhaps. If so, surely the best way forward is to raise tax on ammunition to levels that would make buyers stop and think and probably neglect to buy. Prohibitive taxation has worked in many countries, especially with cigarettes and alcohol. Why should guns and the ammunition that makes them dangerous be off-limits?

It is important to say at this point, that increased taxes on ammunition are hardly a bold new idea. In 1993, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan proposed a 50 per cent tax-hike on most handgun ammunition, and one that came in at more than 10,000 per cent on slightly more lethal arsenal.

It did not go through.

Somewhat dispiritingly, President Obama’s remarks (on Wednesday, Dec 19) that a “majority of Americans” back changes to some laws seems fairly anodyne. At most, Obama is proposing a renewal of an assault weapons ban (which existed 1994-2004), limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines and an end to loopholes allowing gun purchases with no background checks. But this would not mean an end to private, no-questions-asked sales at gun shows across the country. This would not take the estimated 300 million guns currently owned by Americans out of the system.

The only option? Tax ammunition to levels that make it unaffordable to buy, practise with and actively use a gun.