|Ammo at The Outdoorsman of Santa Fe|
Santa Fe New Mexican photo, Luis Sanchez Saturno credit
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” From “The Crack-Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Sin taxes, and an ammo tax proposal as reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican sounds like such a beast, are attempts to transfer to the user of a harmful product the costs to society of self-destructive behavior. In a perfect world, we use the collected funds for public health purposes, i.e., an alcohol or cigarette tax should go into prevention and disease control so society doesn't shoulder the whole burden when the smoker/drinker gets lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.
In the case of an ammo tax, the principal users of bullets are folks who spend days at the range, not days shooting up the neighborhood or putting a gun in their mouth. Trap, skeet, or IDPA shooters go through a boatload of ammo but do not impose the gun violence public health risk on New Mexico. The elephant in the room is that the risk to the public of gun violence is imposed by local hotheads having little or nothing to do with a traditional, legal gun culture or the various shooting sports. A sin tax directed at ammo users is penalizing the innocent for the sins of the guilty.
As we know from sociology professor Andrew Papachristos' work, all gun owners don't have similar risk factors of "cirrhosis of the bullet"; the disease, so to speak, is concentrated in cohorts of people who hang out with people who shoot each other or who resort to violence as their main problem solving tool. I don't think there is any credible study linking heavy ammo users to "gun violence diseases" or for that matter, suicide. Sure, states with a high population of gun owners have higher gun suicide rates because the chances of using a gun to check out is higher if more homes have guns. Its not that simple of course. Alaska, which has a very high suicide rate and very high gun ownership, is also dark half the year and people are isolated. Besides, paying a tax on That Last 45 Round will not stop a suicide. More cooperation on projects such as the Gun Shop Project do help but I wonder if the mayors really want to go there with an ammo tax.
This is yet another tax on the innocent to punish us for being on the wrong side of the culture wars, not to mention punishing the innocent in order to "do anything" about the guilty. To quote David Ropeik in the NY Times (link two lines above and I suggest reading that whole series of 2013-2014 essays in that Times piece):
"...This fight isn’t about guns as weapons, nor about public safety. It is about guns as symbols, of a much more profound and ancient conflict over how society should work, and who decides. It’s just one more surface manifestation of deeper trends that have divided America into warring camps, each group retreating to the protection of its own circled wagons, looking down the sights of the tribal guns at those outside the circle. Other ideologies are the enemy, a threat. Until that deeper conflict softens, little is likely to change about gun control."
In the New Mexican article, Ms. Viscoli of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence suggests amending the state constitution to remove the state constitution's gun law preemption clause so that cities like Santa Fe could ban assault rifles. I've read of conservatives in New Mexico who wanted to ban late term abortions from places like Albuquerque. I am not fond of anyone trying to carve out political fiefdoms of the left or right to proscribe what should be considered universal rights. Either some guns (and some abortions) are legal or they are not. I'd like the US Supreme Court to decide these AR issues on a national scale, since the current patchwork of who can own what doesn't really make sense since motorists can quite easily cross state (or city) lines. After all, what's to keep someone who really wants an AR or a case of untaxed ammo from buying it in Carlsbad (or fill in the blank)) and stashing it at home? Universal police searches?
Universal drunk driver interlocks, Universal Background Checks and ammo taxes are shouldered by all of us whether or not we ever "sin". I guess that is my gripe. Maybe this idea is a good start of a discussion but as I tweeted the Mayor last night, those discussions seem always to be held behind closed doors between gun control people rather than between all interested parties. Some of this year's Legislature's bills are potentially good ideas, such as background checks, if they are restricted to sales between people who cannot vouch for each other, ERPO laws aimed at dangerous individuals, and safe storage incentives. These could be useful, especially if some carrots are added to the sticks. After all, "if it saves one life", background checks or storage requirements save society millions of dollars, i.e., the estimated social costs of homicides. So these requirements should be free (UBC's) or subsidized (gun safes, etc) and easy to obtain, not a Progressive club held over our heads. These should pay for themselves, especially if done cleverly. As Weer'd Beard said in a response to one of my posts, by issuing a state Firearms Owners ID card that would be required to purchase guns and ammo, we could issue it once and cross check it periodically for prohibited conduct. We could easily get around onerous and expensive individual background and ammo checks at point of purchase and flag those who should not be trusted with guns or bullets. So why are we not talking about these?
"...The Supreme Court’s recent decisions protecting the right of people to have guns may in time have a salutary effect on the gun debate. The court held that while people have a right to own guns – and thus government can never disarm the civilian population – there is also plenty of room for gun control under the Second Amendment. In the long run, these decisions may convince gun control advocates to give up their “first-step” ideology and gun rights advocates to realize that their rights are safe. Only then will we have a more nuanced, less emotional debate over what gun laws would make us safe – both from guns and from the criminals who use them to deprive people of their lives and liberty." Adam Winkler, in Emotions About Guns Can Be Ratcheted Down