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Bland: Let’s Get Creative and Use Confiscatory Taxes to Disincentivize Gun Ownership

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The Second Amendment does not bar states and localities from imposing taxes on firearms and ammunition, provided the tax is not so high as to put gun ownership out of the reach of the ordinary consumer, thereby burdening gun ownership and infringing on the rights contemplated by the Second Amendment.

Yet there is, or should be, more effort put into the goal of defraying the costs of gun violence. Taxing firearms at a flat rate may help states and localities cope with the astronomical healthcare expenses for gunshot victims, but it would probably not do much to reduce gun violence.

For that, what is needed is a change in the behavior of gun owners. Gun control regulation could influence behavior, but taking that route is akin to attempting to stay on the back of an angry bull. The easier and probably more effective way to change behavior is through a carefully crafted tax structure.

There is nothing novel in using the tax code to influence taxpayer behavior. For example, a state may encourage consumers in the market for a new car to purchase an electric instead of a gas model by giving shoppers a generous tax incentive for doing so.

Moreover, the revenue from taxing firearms has been used for close to a century to pay for conservation efforts, so why shouldn’t the revenue from such taxes be used to protect people? Considering the Second Amendment is no bar to taxing firearms, a properly structured tax would be a much more effective method for controlling the availability of select types of guns, including assault weapons, simply by raising the cost of ownership.

In other words, this route would silence gun control opponents who use the Second Amendment as a shield against reform. Using the tax code could shift the argument from one of a violation of rights to one that protects gun owners’ rights while lowering the negative costs gun ownership imposes on the rest of society.

Further, mass shootings tend to be carried out by shooters that own an arsenal of guns, and an excise tax could be structured to alleviate concerns to some extent.

The instances of a single individual accumulating many weapons could be reduced by making the first purchase of a gun tax free and then imposing an incremental tax on subsequent purchases.

However, the increase would have to be substantial, perhaps in increments of 10 percent per weapon. Under such an approach, by the time a buyer reaches a certain number of purchases, the amount of tax could potentially reach at least one-half of the firearm’s value.

— Roxanne Bland in The Second Amendment, Taxes, And Gun Control

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