A Tax on Freedom
Punitive taxes on guns and ammunition will punish only the law-abiding.


Charles C. W. Cooke

The measures are downright useless, to boot. Whatever the apostles of taxation might have you believe, “fees” do have the effect of “taking away guns,” because they severely limit the ability of the poor to buy them. Wealthier gun owners, meanwhile, continue to buy guns as they did before but end up paying a little more to do so. And criminals? They remain unaffected. As the Los Angeles Times observes:

A 5 percent tax on a $300 handgun amounts to an extra $15. A person bent on mass murder would hardly be discouraged by a low gun tax, and it would take many years for the higher retail costs to filter down to the criminal market in second-hand guns; moreover, a criminal who needs a gun as a primary tool of his trade would hardly be put off by a slightly higher price.

Too much of that sort of reasonable argument, and I’ll have to conclude that the L.A. Times has something against America’s children.

The setup is even more risible when it comes to bullets. As Kelly Phillips of Forbes observes, to believe that such taxes will do anything to reduce crime requires one to suspend one’s disbelief to a frightening degree and to argue that criminals are likely to think: “Well, I would kill both of those folks but that extra five cents on the second victim would just be too much. I have to save up this month.”

Fewet than 10 percent of criminals convicted for gun offenses buy their weapons in shops. As taxes are levied only in shops — not on the street — law-abiding gun owners end up “paying” for the consequences of behavior that the vast majority of them would never countenance, while the bad eggs escape tax-free. Jon Cardin’s claim that “people who participate in [an] activity should pay the full costs of that activity” is disingenuous in the extreme. What Cordin is suggesting is akin to taxing potatoes to pay for the consequences of potato guns. Those who create the externalities are not paying much at all; that honor, as ever, falls to their victims.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.