Cigarettes don’t kill people, people do. That would be the tobacco lobby lying to the world. We’d recognize the claim at once as transparent nonsense. So we tax tobacco, using the proceeds to pay for, among other things, health care for those destroying themselves by indulging their right to smoke.
Why not use the same public policy tools to attempt to control gun violence?
I concede a hidden agenda. Were it within my power, I’d repeal the Second Amendment. It is an anachronism. We aren’t armed against foreign invaders; no militia is necessary to protect against a wild frontier. And, despite all the brash whining of politicos, we really don’t take seriously the notion that the government has become a tyranny. We aren’t arming ourselves to preserve liberty.
We are armed to recreate the state of nature, a place in which, as Thomas Hobbes argued, life is “nasty, poor, solitary, brutish and short.” We are armed because we fear one another, not the state. So we’re making a violent frontier out of inner cities, suburbia, and now, classrooms.
Guns, like cigarettes, kill people.
So if we won’t outlaw the private possession of firearms, let’s at least take steps to make sure gun manufacturers, gun sellers, and gun owners both pay the social costs associated with gun violence and have a stake in preventing guns from flooding the streets. We can do this with a tax and civil forfeiture policy.
The price of a pack of cigarettes in Connecticut is roughly $9. Most of that is tax. Why not a hefty tax on the sale of each gun? Let’s face it, guns are not necessities. You want the luxury of arming yourself in preparation for Armageddon? Then why not pay for it by contributing something to the inevitable costs associated with gun violence in terms of imprisonment, injury, lost wages and death? I’ll bet we could put a dent in the national debt taxing guns.
When an inherently dangerous product is placed in the stream of commerce, all those who introduced the product can be forced to share the liability for the harm the product causes. Why not treat guns in this manner?
Suppose a Colt firearm is used in a murder. Upon proof that the Colt was used, assess a $250,000 fine against the manufacturer, a $10,000 fine against the seller, and $5,000 fine against each registered owner. These fines would catch the attention of folks trucking and bartering in firearms. It might also inspire a sense of greater accountability and responsibility.
It is not uncommon in large urban areas for armed suburbanites to troll the city’s illegal drug markets looking to trade a gun for narcotics. Often a young man or woman steals a parent’s gun to trade for an evening’s pleasure. These guns remain in the inner city, where they are used in catastrophic acts of violence over often trifling causes. If gun owners knew they were going to get smacked with a hefty fine when their guns killed someone, I suspect they’d take greater pains to secure their guns.
I can hear the gunpowder chorus now: Those using the guns to kill should be responsible, not us. Most gun owners are pacific, peace-loving people. That begs the question. Most smokers are peaceable, too. I am simply asking that we use social policy to manage risk and assess costs.
Another two-step used to divert attention from gun violence is to argue that what we really need it more effective mental-health treatment. This is a variant on the guns don’t kill people argument: if we had better mental health treatment, there’d be fewer murders, at least fewer mass murders.
That’s not much of an argument. One in four Americans will suffer depression in their lives. Many will suffer psychoses of one sort or another. Millions take mood altering medications. The ubiquity of mental illness is really another argument in favor of gun control: With all these smoldering personalities in the world, why do we think drenching ourselves with gasoline will make us safe?
You’ll have to pry my gun from my cold, dead fingers, a friend said not long ago. Fine, I say. Game on. It’s time to get serious about gun control. Gun violence is a matter of life and death. Don’t expect me to fight fair against the fear your gun will kill me.•