California's Plan to Tax Its Way to Less Gun Violence Is a Remarkably Stupid Idea

AP Photo/Brittainy Newman

California’s tax on firearms will be going into effect soon, prompting cheers from the anti-gunner lobby. The excise tax is ostensibly intended to curb gun violence. But, in reality, as with most gun control laws, those supporting it are missing some key details in their arguments.

In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, author Topher L. McDougal sought to answer the question: Will the new tax actually reduce gun violence?

The simple, common-sense answer to this question is “Hell no.” But I’m sure my editors won’t let me get away with writing a two-word article responding to McDougal’s ridiculous arguments, so I suppose I will have to dismantle them one by one.

The author starts out by making the dubious claim that an excise tax on firearms, similar to taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and other items, would somehow reduce gun violence because fewer people would purchase firearms.

One way to think about the law’s ramifications is to compare state tax policies on firearms with those on alcohol and tobacco products. It’s not for nothing that these all appear in the name of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF focuses on those products because, while legal, they can cause significant harm to society in the form of drunken driving, for example, or cancer-causing addictions. They also have a common history: All have been associated with criminal organizations seeking to profit from illicit markets.

Essentially, McDougal is suggesting that imposing taxes on firearms will somehow promote public safety because it would decrease the number of people who purchase alcohol and tobacco. This argument is about as silly as it gets.

First off, the benefit one gets from alcohol and tobacco is quite different from firearms. If one is facing a home intruder, offering him a drink and a smoke is not going to defuse the situation. Discouraging people from purchasing firearms by making them cost-prohibitive will only prevent people from obtaining the means by which they can defend themselves. Numerous studies have shown that gun owners are far more likely to use their firearms to protect themselves and their property than to commit a crime.

The other issue is that imposing a tax on firearms does not necessarily mean people won’t still purchase firearms. If anything, it might push people to purchase guns on the black market as they do with tobacco and other substances. In fact, those living in low-income areas with high crime might be pushed to resort to this method so they can defend themselves, meaning the tax might inadvertently criminalize people who just want to stay alive.

The author also exhibits a level of honesty that is rare for those in the anti-gunner crowd. McDougal essentially admits that the tax is intended to make it harder for regular law-abiding folks to keep and bear arms.

Using these figures, another colleague recently estimated that the California excise tax would reduce gun sales by 30% to 44%. If applied across the country, the tax could generate an additional $1.5 billion to $1.9 billion in government revenue.

Note that the author did not say this would decrease sales to people purchasing them illegally, nor did he even touch on the fact that the vast majority of gun crimes are committed by those who obtain their firearms outside of the law. It makes sense given that this is one of the most inconvenient truths for those seeking to disarm the public. Instead, his only concern is to stop non-criminals from owning firearms while generating more revenue for the state.

The hard reality folks like McDougal wish to ignore is that you can’t tax your way to less gun violence. As with most other gun laws, California’s tax depends on bad actors who use guns to victimize people purchasing their guns legally. Instead, what the Golden State is doing is leaving regular folks more vulnerable to violent criminals who couldn’t care less about their silly taxes.


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