A Proposal for an American-Specific Gun Policy

January 23, 2013


"Normal Dan" Dan Liechty

“Normal Dan” Dan Liechty

Lately I have cocked my eavesdropping ear whenever I hear others discussing guns in America. Ideas are flying furiously about how to prevent such events as the recent school massacre in Connecticut, from banning any and all firearms on one side to placing heavily armed guards wherever people gather in public, with a good portion of that public themselves packing concealed weapons, on the other side.

We are scared and want protection against feelings of powerlessness. The depths of our fears are demonstrated by the very irrationality of the proposals. Many people see guns as the problem itself. True, people shoot people, not guns alone. But unarmed people do not shoot people, and therefore the more difficult it is for a potential shooter access to high-powered weapons, the less likely it is such a shooting will occur. Many other people know from experience that guns give them a sense of power. Naturally, they turn even more strongly to the power these weapons render to counter feelings of powerlessness. Here in Illinois, the only state not to have one already, we are considering state-wide concealed-carry policy. This back-and-forth “guns as problem, guns as power” is played out daily in the Letters section of each newspapers across the state.

I do not own a gun, though I grew up with them and earned a turkey or two in my younger years for marksmanship. Sometime around 15 years of age, I just lost interest. Furthermore, I lived for many years in countries with extremely strict gun policies, and there the only people I heard complain about it were folks who I was quite relieved did not have easy access to guns! There, homicides of any kind were only a fraction of what occurs in any one of dozens of US cities each day.

But the USA is something else entirely.  We have a different history, temperament and very different social institutions. Many in our society really love guns. Our Supreme Court, in laughably contorted interpretation of “well-regulated militia,” decided that being armed is a basic individual right. So clearly guns are not going away. Furthermore, any policy of confiscation would be largely viewed as a direct attempt to decrease citizens’ power, the remedy for which is [insert mental rim shot here] more guns!

So, we need to re-frame the issue. There are tradeoffs between individual freedom and the social costs incurred by exercise of such freedom. Generally we agree it is fair for the social costs of a freely-chosen activity to be folded into the activity itself and born largely by those who choose to engage in the activity. User-fee taxes are the best example of this. Thus smokers pay hefty tobacco taxes when they purchase their chosen product, the revenues of which defray at least a portion of the costs incurred by society because some people among us choose to smoke. Likewise, gasoline taxes at the pump are designated for upkeep of roads and bridges, which are costs incurred by society from the activities of drivers. We honor people’s right to engage in cost-incurring activities, but rightly expect that if costs are incurred from that activity, such costs be paid largely by those who choose to engage in the activity. Those who smoke a lot pay more tax for the privilege than those who smoke less. Those who buy lots of gasoline pay more tax than those who buy less. Generally speaking, we Americans prefer this to outright bans on harmful activities. “You can swing your arms all you want, but if you break someone’s nose, you pay the medical bill yourself!”

Rather than coercively eliminating guns, a better policy would be to recognize fully the rights of citizens to arm themselves, but also that exercise of this right entails very real costs to the society. Setting aside intangible costs (what dollar value can be assigned to people’s grief?) there are plenty of concrete costs incurred by current gun ethics in our country to give us a place to start–medical care for the wounded and payment for protection officers alone is already a significant sum. To this we might add the costs of a beefed up mental health and criminal justice system required if we are really serious about keeping guns out of the hands of some while fostering relatively free availability to everyone else.

A ballpark figure would not be difficult to establish for the costs incurred by society so that those among us who feel safer with guns can own more or less as many guns as they want and can afford. The next reasonable step is to assess an adequate users’-fee-tax, perhaps at the point when ammunition is purchased, designated to defray the social costs incurred by the misuse of such easily available weapons. Gun owners would then enjoy the freedom to decide how much or how little of that tax they want to pay, based on how much of the levied items they choose to purchase. Others in society would be at least somewhat eased of the burden of paying for the choice of gun owners to exercise their rights of gun ownership.

It seems Win/Win to me…


  1. A rather modest proposal, really.

  2. Seems like a first step in the right direction, though it would also give me one more reason to fear the wealthy. Not only would they have the ability to buy their way into politics and shape social policies in ways that increase the gap between rich and poor, but when all hell breaks loose, they might be the only ones with the guns!

    • Good point! No doubt the bleeding heart liberal crowd and the NRA crowd could find common ground in a policy of including guns and ammunition in the government food stamps program…

  3. Best of luck with your ammo tax idea, my guess is that it would go down as well as a climate tax on gas – like a dog turd in a food blender.

  4. I’m pretty sure I posted a comment here. Did it get deleted/rejected? Or am I a paranoid conspiracy theorist? What actually constitutes discourse here? I repeat the gist of what I said before, stating the obvious even more obviously: this post is satire, a Swiftian proposal, and I call shenanigans. On the off chance this argument is serious, I’m happy to point out its obvious flaws.

    • No satire intended at all. I would like to see this discussed as serious policy. Also, I can assure you there was no foul play on posting your material. Please do point out the obvious flaws in my argument.

  5. Tossing your palpably malicious undertones aside, the comparisons you make don’t add up very well. I am not sure why you think it is relevant to point out the fact that you don’t own a gun; to me it seems to be a transparent attempt to ingratiate yourself with certain readers. Why would anyone care?

    The “costs to society” you are speaking of are not due to gun ownership, they are due to crime and negligence. Do you not believe in the concept of the Rule of Law? Why should a person who owns a trap shotgun and uses it legally at a shooting club be held financially responsible for a death or injury caused by a bullet fired unlawfully in a dark urban alley from a cheap handgun? Here I find yet another example of how meaningless collective guilt has trumped meaningful personal responsibility in America. Do you honestly believe this will fix anything?

    You don’t even bother to delve into the motives behind the gun – wielding criminal. Why are ever – increasing numbers of young people getting so desperately angry that they’re driven to the point of wanting to kill? You don’t seem to know or care much about that, offering a ‘solution’ which is bound to only make more people even angrier.

    • I’ll let Dan chime in with his own response, but let me comment on a couple of your points. You say that the costs to society are not due to gun ownership but rather “crime” and “negligence.” But we might also claim that car accident fatalities are not the result of not wearing seatbelts, but rather poor driving and inadequate decision making while behind the wheel. Your argument holds no water.

      Furthermore, I do not think Dan is suggesting we necessarily tax ALL guns… his piece seems to be more of a reaction to assault rifle and handgun ownership, which represents the majority of gun ownership in America (e.g. people who do not use guns for hunting). And you can tote your ‘personal responsibility’ line, but it again rings hollow, since we could easily argue (though you might not agree) that gun ownership itself, especially as it applies to assault rifles, demonstrates a lack of personal responsibility.

      Would some kind of tax fix anything? Well, seatbelt laws do not create more intelligent drivers, but it sure as hell prevents deaths. Why wouldn’t we expect the same kind of result from better gun legislation?

      • Thanks for letting Dan chime in with his own response. I was previously unaware that he needed anyone’s permission.

        To compare gun deaths with vehicular fatalities is to conflate assault (intentional) with accidents (unintentional). The two could hardly be more alike, save for the resulting carnage. That’s hardly an excercise in impeccable logic; you might as well point out the similarities of an inquisitor’s bonfire with bubonic contagion. Declaring that an argument against this “holds no water” does not make it so. (Supporting your premise with facts and/or evidence would be preferred.) By extension, we should also impose additional ‘societal damage’ taxes on Boeing and Airbus for the costs of 9/11. Those costs are borne by all taxpayers, not just people who build airplanes or fly in them.

        All one needs to do to guage the effectiveness of yet another large scale government program or prohibition is to assess the effectiveness of those from the past. Would toxic, homemade street drugs be as widespread as they are today if Sears Roebuck still marketed the same drugs they were allowed to at the turn of the last century? Be careful of what you wish for. You can tax and restrict firearms all you like, but the evidence couldn’t be clearer that such an effort would only drive a larger underground market. Even as I write this, the methods for building small, lethal, homemade elecric rail guns is posted online. This technology has been around since the days of Nikola Tesla, and is not at all difficult to implement with readily available materials. Any teenaged tinkerer could build one. I would guess that plenty of them already have.

        I won’t even ask you how my owning a gun, if I did, would make me irresponsible. I’m afraid that it would only encourage you to debauch the English language even more than you have already.

    • I will respond here only to the direct question of why I emphasize why I am not personally a gun owner. It was to underline the point that I am not simply gun-phobic, that I have experience with guns, had marksmanship skills, and also have at least rudimentary sympathy for the fact that some people are attracted to guns as a form of sport. But I am also underlining there that as far as one of those reasons-the feeling of “power and control” having a gun offers-is essentially an adolescent fantasy that I left behind with adolescence. On the other hand, I rarely pull out my guitar without indulging one of my leftover adolescent fantasies, by playing the 1-4-5-4 chord sequence of “Louie Louie”!! So I am not claiming to stand above adolescent fantasy indulgence per se. I would suggest that my form hasn’t yet harmed anyone else, though some people, especially members of my own family, might well consider my guitar to be a dangerous assault weapon, if not a potential weapon of mass destruction!

  6. Judging from your tone, it would seem that I have offended you. If I did, my apologies. And as I am sure you know, I was offering a harmless expression politeness in my saying “I will let Dan chime in,” since you were critiquing his piece, and I was technically intruding and not letting him have the first response to you. I am sorry that this expression was not made more clear.

    You seem to be arguing that ‘reasonable people’ don’t shoot human beings without good cause, therefore we should be targeting human reasoning (or the lack thereof) and not guns. My point is that human reasoning could be at fault for a lot of things (e.g. poor driving, drug use, etc.), and yet we still, as a society, choose to tackle the more ‘proximate’ variables (e.g. seat-belts, possession of drugs, access to guns) that put a dent in the issue. You will have a better chance at tackling the after-effects by constraining these variables, not trying to alter human reasoning.

    As an aside, I should mention that in Canada, assault weapons are prohibited and yet we do not have the kind of large black market you would warn us about. Of the weapons that do turn up, over 50% of them (a reportedly conservative estimate) are smuggled in from the US.

  7. […‘societal damage’ taxes on Boeing and Airbus for the costs of 9/11….”] What manner of nonsense is this? As if airplanes were designed and manufactured to be killing machines, or, for “target practice”.

    Then we have this beauty. .. “Would toxic, homemade street drugs be as widespread as they are today if Sears Roebuck still marketed the same drugs they were allowed to at the turn of the last century?”..

    Indeed, our country would be a much better place if we could purchase our opium and heroin from Sears and have it delivered, through the mail.

    With regard to owning a gun making you irresponsible… it doesn’t. The irresponsibility part comes first. So, you are at least half way there already.

  8. Brad: No apologies necessary.
    Mrs. Neutered: Stop screaming. Watch this video

    then check back here for further instructions.

    • Sure isn’t hard to place that accent. If I’m not mistaken that ridiculous little video was filmed in the Liberty University “Book&Gun” Store, in Lynchburg, Virginia. So, is that you on the right, or, the left?

    • Those aren’t real weapons, toys more like. No, what every man needs is one of them single shot infinite range black light laser sighted schnipers, great on a turkey shoot!

  9. I say we tax all men with the ability to lift over 100 lbs severely so that they will be less likely to use their brawn to hurt people.

    • Well, in this particular case, for the analogy to hold, it would have to have been shown that weight-lifting men are 4-5x more likely to hurt themselves or others with their weight lifting, and then displace the medical costs for those injuries onto everyone else. In that case, I think it would be perfectly logical to figure out at least a good approximation of the costs incurred by the practice of weight-lifting and then impose some kind of specifically designated tax in the system (for example, added to the purchase of weight-lifting equipment) that would significantly cover those costs. I can understand that weight-lifters would kick and scream about that and feel like everyone else is trying to curtail their right to choose weight-lifting as their sport. But if the studies clearly support the premise (as is the case with firearms) then they just have to face up to the fact that they live in a democratic society and this is how things work in a democratic society. I would make the same argument, by the way, about people exercising their ‘rights’ to refuse vaccinations for the most deadly and dangerous diseases. They should have that right, but they should also have to pay through the nose for the costs imposed on everyone else to have a non-vaccinated person among them.

      • That’s an extremely dangerous extension of your argument, Daniel.

        You say you would support the placement of a tax on the decision not to vaccinate oneself. Would you similarly place a tax on the decision not to work? On the decision not to marry? On the decision not to have children?

        All of these decisions not-to-do-x involve costs to the broader society. Let’s tax them!

      • Back to the brawny man situation I introduced earlier…

        I didn’t reference weight lifting for a reason. While the lifting of weights is one way to become brawny and threatening, it is certainly not the only way. Some men are naturally large, or become large through natural activities (hard labor, etc). A tax on the lifting of weights would not be sufficient to curb the danger posed to society by brawny men.

        No, to curb the danger posed by brawny men we must tax the brawn out of them. Make them eat tofu and bean curds rather than steak. Force them to starve if need be. Anything to decrease their fearsome strength for the betterment of society.

    • willis668… Kurt Vonnegut suggested a fix for these kinds of problems years ago. We need a “Handicapper and Chief”. Everyone should be assigned handicaps in life to make us all “more equal”. Strong people would be burdened down with enormous weights and beautiful women would be forced to put on ridiculous masks and have their teeth blackened out. Then, there would be no need to envy anybody anything. Crime would fade away like a morning mist. Guns would become quaint curiosities.

      • That’s amusing. I don’t think I’ve read that one, will have to get to it. Thanks.

      • Just to end this (at least on my part), it all comes down to the old adage that you have the right to swing your arms in any way you want to, but your right to swing your arms any way you want to ends at my (or anyone else’s) nose. Clearly, claiming the right to have relatively easy access to any and all weapons has met the nose of the rest of us. We are no longer going to be cowed and are going to find rational and effective means to curtail the present situation. The days when the no-holds-barred gun folks ruled the field and silenced any opposition are over and done with. I plead with all rational people to JOIN TOGETHER in this rational curtailment process. That, it seems to me, is the best way to get it done, but make sure it doesn’t go much farther than it needs to.

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