Death and Taxes (or Here’s to the Egg Heads)

by thoughtsatlarge

Franklin blood

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” —Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789.

Right now, on Verizon Wireless, you can get any of eight smartphones for FREE! Now, I’m no Steve Jobs, but a guy selling sand at the Great Pyramid of Khufu charges something, so how is it that a wireless phone company can afford to give away the phone? Of course, the answer is that it is the 2 year contract comprising of a line cost and data package that earns the company their money. As far as they guy selling sand in the desert, I can only suppose it is marketing, charm or preying on tourists that earns him his money.

This business model, the loss leader, is not unique to cell phones. Inkjet printers can be had for less than $50, but the ink they use can cost you well over $100. Under this business model, and without government oversight, one can imagine car manufacturers purchasing oil companies, giving away gas guzzling cars for free and making a fortune on fuel. In this scenario, the Hummer would have lived forever. In short, it is the consumables that garner the profit.

Can this model be used to impact gun violence in America? Absolutely, however, it is the government and not the manufacturers that must act in this scenario. To gun manufacturers, fear drives business. Just as you would never have a meeting with a home security firm representative who would tell you that your neighborhood and your home are impervious to crime, gun manufacturers breed paranoia.

If the goal is to curb gun violence, perhaps the method is to control the consumables, in this case ammunition. Rather than target large capacity magazines or clips, make the price of filling it cost prohibitive. We are all familiar with the bumper sticker mentality of the gun rights groups who love to chant, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well, in fact, guns don’t kill people, bullets do. And taken a step further, empty guns can’t kill anyone (short of beating them with it like a club). Right now there are no limitations on ammunition purchases over the internet. In the aftermath of countless mass shootings or arrests prior to any carnage, we always hear that the individual had “X number of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.” Thousands!

In 1993, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted that the country had a 200 year supply of guns but only a 4 year supply of ammunition. In the 20 years since then, the easily skirted assault weapons ban lapsed, the right wing has made “patriot” a de facto religion and over 300,000 people have been killed with a gun (CDC statistics: 156,077 killed from 1999-2010, so a conservative estimate of over 300,000). And this does not include the over 400,000 that killed themselves over the same 20 year period (CDC statistics: 208,406 firearm suicides from 1999-2010, so, again, a conservative estimate of over 400,000).

Senator Moynihan’s proposal, as reported in the New York Times, raised under the auspices of public health, was to raise the tax on ammunition from 11% to 50% on the wholesale price of handgun ammunition. In some cases, it would have raised the tax to 10,000%. Of course, some saw it as a revenue raising proposal rather than a public health issue. In typical NRA fashion, Wayne LaPierre criticized it by saying, “I seriously doubt anyone in America believes crime is going to go down because taxes are going to go up. It shows how egg headed this whole debate has become.”

Needless to say, Senator Moynihan’s proposal died like the 30,000 people killed by firearms every year. Perhaps it is time to revisit this proposal, but on a more systematic basis. Rather than an average of a 50% tax increase on ammunition, let’s tax it at 10,000%. Perhaps we should limit the amount of ammunition that can be purchased online. Perhaps it is time to consider gun violence a public health issue and not the sole issue of the tyranny fighting patriot. Perhaps we should study the number of guns sold in the country rather than keep it a mystery. Perhaps we should embrace logic and reason, fact and compassion, egg heads over mouth pieces. Perhaps.

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