10 August 2012

A Man, A Plan, A Tax–Genius!

So I’m reading Guns, Butter and Then Some - NYTimes.com and for some reason my mind wanders to a long dormant fact:

Cigarettes cost way more than they used to.  One reason I quit back in 1982 was that the price went above $1 a pack.  Today they are often $4 or more.  And the result of raisin those taxes has been to reduce the percentage of people who smoke.  It has become financially challenging. 

One reason states and the feds raised the taxes was to address the costs of tobacco use.  They use the money (ostensibly) to educate against smoking, especially directed and children and youth, and to compensate the state for the societal costs of smoking.

Then I wondered, what would happen if we were to tax guns.  And what if that tax was based on the cost of gun violence overall?  Let’s take a look.  Here is a chart (from the National Shooting Sports Foundation:

Note that in 2011 10.8 millions guns were purchased in the US. But let’s use 2002, 7 million, because it is closer to the next data point, the health cost of guns.  According to JAMA, in a 1999 article reporting on 1994 data, the medical cost of gun violence in 1994 was $2.3 billion. Leaving aside collateral costs because they are harder to quantify, these two figures tell me that each gun bought costs ad additional $328.50.

What if every gun were to be taxed an equal share of the medical cost of gun violence the previous year?  That money would be set aside just to pay that, btw, because even if you are shot by a criminal you pay the hospital bill (or mortician). 

Not only would that tax made guns more expensive, discouraging both impulse purchases and hoarding, it would make those who buy the guns pay for the cost of misusing them.

But wait, says the NRA, why should law abiding gun owners pay for bad apples?  For the same reason that good drivers pay insurance premiums based on how badly a few drive.  Owning a gun or a car has consequences, as bearing your share of those consequences is part of being a grown up.

I think this is an inspired idea.  Tax guns, not to control them but to make the cost of misusing them the price gun owners and users bear instead of those wounded and killed and then presented with the bill as well.  If you’re hurt by a gun, the gun owners of America will make it right. 

1 comment:

Kelsey Atherton said...

This is an interesting idea, but slightly off. Guns are durable. In Afghanistan, where demand is high and the weather isn't forgiving, there are guns in use that date from 1911. In the US, there are already 90 guns for every 100 people (http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/08/28/us-world-firearms-idUSL2834893820070828). These are not evenly distributed, but the secondary market would have a powerful effect on gun availability that the tax would take decades to overcome. Prices would rise, but only slightly, as the new gun + tax prices meant secondary market prices increased slightly. This is radically different than cigarettes, which are consumed once and then gone.

The better way to do this would be a bullet tax. (Cue Chris RRock: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuX-nFmL0II) While both cigarettes and bullets can be stockpiled and stored for a while, once they are used they are used. There is also good data on lethality/use in crime relative to bullet type, which would allow for differential rates to equal different health burdens.