Tax Cuts and Access to Guns: Both Destructive Pieces of Conservative Public Policy

Kyle Curtis Facebook

Yes, this is another column in response to the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. And yes, this is another column that relies on analogies to get across its central conceit, that unfettered access to guns and a reliance on the tax cuts demanded by supply-side economics are both equally regressive pieces of conservative public policy that have a destructive impact on society. T.A. Barnhart did a pretty good job connecting guns with cars, pointing out how the privilege to own and drive a car comes complete with a list of training, registration and requirements that are not required to gun ownership, as owning a gun is construed as a "right" and not a "privilege" and therefore all common sense flies out the window. (I am glad that T.A. made this analogy as I'm so tired of hearing the "Cars kill people, so let's ban cars too" kneejerk response to proposed gun control efforts. Here's my short guns-versus-cars analogy: Yes, if used in an accidental nature, then both cars and guns can kill people. However, if a car is used as it is intended, then a person will be transported from Point A to Point B safe and sound. If a gun as used as it is intended, someone is still killed. Do you see the difference?)

This morning I was reading the latest blog entry provided by Will Bunch--a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, and the author of an insightful tear-down of the Reagan mythos in Tear Down This Myth and the follow-up The Backlash, a recent history of the rise of the astroturf Tea Party movement--and was delighted to read a number of recent actions that have been taken in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, steps that Bunch refers to as "gun sanity." Michigan Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a bill passed by that state's legislation the day before the Newtown shootings that would've expanded the ability to carry firearms in daycare centers and schools throughout the state. Dick's Sporting Goods is reportedly suspending sales of some rifles nationwide. And the Cerberus investment group has wisely decided to sell the Freedom Group, its collection of gun companies, including Bushmaster the firm responsible for producing the assault rifle used in the Newtown and four other mass shootings since 1999.

Certainly, these are all good developments, and should be championed by those of us seeking the application of common sense towards gun control in this country. But while reading the comments to Bunch's brief listing off positive developments, there were the inevitable troll comments left by gun-supporting conservatives. (Bunch perhaps gets more than his fair share of comments left by conservative trolls, but that's the price he pays for taking on the patron saint Ronald Reagan.) One troll comment I found interesting was along the lines of "When do criminals disarm?" But what really caught my eye was the response: "Where were you when we made it easy to arm in the first place?"

The more I thought about this interchange, the more it became clear to me as a matter of public policy just how similar increased gun access is is to passing large tax-cuts that unequally benefit the wealthy. In both cases, the proponents of both policies are largely conservative, ignore the mountain of evidence and facts that show just how destructive these policies are, and in response to the problems caused by these policies is a call for a continuation of these same policies, if perhaps extended further or even be more encompassing in their scope. Allow me to explain a little bit more in detail after the jump, as I make clear the similarities between increased access to guns and tax cuts are very similar destructive pieces of conservative public policy.

Both pro-gun and pro-tax cut proponents seem unaware--and even shocked or outraged--at the outcomes of the policies they support. Early on during this most recent presidential election, there was an attempt towards an "We are the 53%" campaign that was created by Erick Erickson and used by conservatives in response to the "We are the 99%" mantra adopted by the various Occupy movements. The intent of the "We are the 53%" campaign was to draw attention to the fact that just slightly more than half of Americans pay income tax--ignoring the percentage of Americans that pay sales, property, and other taxes. Yet the level of outrage supposedly demonstrated through Erickson's attempt to counteract the message of Occupy was weak at best. After all, conservative anti-tax politicians have for decades pushed to lower or even to get rid of taxes entirely. This disingenuous stance is mirrored in the above exchange from the comments section of Bunch's blog. The NRA and pro-gun politicians have pushed to expand easy access to guns, through the use of both public policy and court challenges to gun control efforts. And now they have the audacity to ask how to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and crazy people? Outrageous!

Although pro-gun and pro-tax cuts only make matters worse, the response by proponents is to double down on both policies Tax cuts only serve one purpose, and that is to reduce revenues and tie the hands of government. After all, the infamous quote of noted anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist was that he wanted to "shrink government to the size that you can drag it into the bathtub and drown it." If tax cuts were to increase government revenues, as are speciously claimed, then how would these expanded revenues decrease the size of government that is sought by Norquist? Kind of confusing, right? Its because tax cuts are purposefully designed to reduce revenues, creating an artificial cap on the amount of money the government has available to spend. There are two amounts of money that the government can spend: the amount necessary for a competent functioning of society, and the artificially-capped amount brought in from reduced tax revenues. Although they are not one and the same, this does not prevent anti-tax activists from decrying the "reckless government spending" which is not only not reckless, but the main reason our country is saddled with deficits is due to the cap in revenues created by the tax cuts that they support.

But guess what anti-tax proponents solution is for deficit reduction? You guessed it: tax cuts. What is their solution to stimulate a sluggish economy? You're right again: tax cuts. Never mind that the level of taxation is at its lowest in decades, the solution to all of our current economic ills is simply to have more--and bigger--tax cuts.

Does this argument sound familiar? Its only been a handful of days since the massacre at Sandy Hook, and for the most part there has been an up-swell in voices demanding a sensible approach to gun control. Although the NRA has mostly been silent--even removing its Facebook page--this does not mean that its apologists have been quiet. And one of the most often repeated talking point by NRA supporters is that the most obvious response to this tragedy is that we need to increase the amount of guns in this country.

What? Are you effing kidding me? Noted famous person Anne Coulter--who is not an expert in anything, as far as I can tell--tweeted her support of a book called "More Guns, Less Crime" in response to last Friday's tragic events, thus ignoring the past few decades which have seen relaxed restrictions on gun ownership and a flooding o guns throughout the country, resulting in over 200 million firearms in the hands of Americans. Is anyone going to argue with a straight face that this increased number of guns has resulted in a safer society, with less crime? This is a laughable notion, particularly with the increased rate of gun-caused massacres in recent years. Consider the Gabby Giffords shooting to the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin to the Aurora movie theater to the Clackamas Town Center to Sandy Hook--and this has only been the past two years alone!

The response provided by pro-gun activists and politicians that more guns are needed is so ridiculous, it would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic. On Monday's episode of Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman moderated a panel discussion about gun control, during which John Velleco, the chief federal lobbyist for Gun Owners of America, stated that pro-gun control politicians such as Dianne Feinstein, Michael Bloomberg, and Chuck Schumer want to "double down" on failed policies that have allowed such instances as the Sandy Hook massacre to occur in the first place. What utter, utter nonsense. Australia passed an assault weapons ban in 1996, and the country went a decade without a mass shooting. The worst mass shooting in Canada was two decades ago that left 14 dead. The ban on assault weapons in Canada since then has prevented any further mass shootings. The argument that "more guns equals less crime" ignores not only these stats from Australia and Canada, but also ignores the ever-increasing instances of mass shootings in America that have coincided with a substantial increase in the number of guns--and the ease to get these guns.

No, it is not the pro-gun control politicians that are doubling down on failed policies. Similar to those that argue in support of tax cuts despite the massive amount of evidence that these tax cuts are economically disastrous, pro-gun activists and politicians are the ones that are truly doubling down on failed policies.

Both pro-tax cuts and pro-gun arguments rely on a specious argument about "freedom." Pro-tax cut activists and politicians frame their argument that Americans should have the freedom to keep as much of their income as possible. This would totally be fine, if the obvious outcome wouldn't be the creation of a large number of freeloaders. The problem with the tax system in this country is that nobody sees the direct results of the taxes they pay. They send off their check to the IRS and then grumble about "wasteful government spending" as they drive on taxpayer-funded roads, breathe taxpayer-funded clean air, don't get sickened by taxpayer-funded inspected food in their fridge, and live in a well-lit and heated home, provided by taxpayer funds. The most radical (and ridiculous) of the anti-tax activists would read this as a chilling reminder of how much pf a "slave" we are to government. This, of course, overlooks the fact that in the United States, the government is "we the people": the government is us. Taxes are the dues we pay to live in the society of what anti-tax activists would undoubtedly refer to as "the greatest country on earth." (Ironically, conservative anti-tax politicians have their own version of this argument, which they used during the election as they warned of American society devolving to one that pits the "makers versus the takers." The problem is that the takers are a direct result of the anti-tax policies the support!)

Now the arguments about the "freedom" to own as many guns as possible is traced back to the Second Amendment. So all forms of sensible gun control--from bullet tracing to mandatory registration and firearm training to fingerprint trigger locks that could make only one owner able to fire a gun, mitigating the impact of stolen firearms--the NRA and pro-gun politicians attack these in a kneejerk manner as an "infringement" on their Second Amendment freedoms. But when we actually take a look at the language of the Second Amendment, the language used calls for a "well regulated militia." All of the above listed examples certainly qualify under the descriptive "well regulated" in regards to the access and use of firearms, but that does not prevent opposition from the pro-gun crowd. As a result, it could be suggested that those making anti-constitutional arguments are actually the NRA and like-minded supporters.

Both pro-tax cuts and pro-gun arguments can be boiled down to bumper sticker phrases that don't hold any water. "Tax cuts create revenue." No, they don't. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Yes, with guns. Moving on...

Both tax cuts and unfettered access to guns have markedly negative public health impacts. Okay, so this might be a stretch. But hear me out on this one. The public health impact of guns are direct and obvious. Today--and every day--over 80 Americans will from gun violence. (Remarkably, only 30+ of these deaths will be due to homicides, with the rest being suicides.) Some physicians have argued that gun violence should be treated as a public health issue, opposed to solely as a matter of law, with some evidence that support a prevention-based strategy reduces violent-related injuries. However, there is limited federal funding available to researching gun violence from a public health perspective, even though such similar funding towards traffic safety research helped reduce the number of deaths from car crashes. (Guns versus cars again!)

And here is where the negative public health of guns and tax cuts are inextricably linked. As stated previously, the sole purpose of tax cuts is to reduce the amount of revenues available for the government to spend. As a result, there is less funding available for such purposes as researching a prevention-based approach to reducing gun violence. And this is not the only negative public health impacts created by tax cuts. After Sandy Hook, there has been a renewed discussion about the treatment of those with mental health issues in our country. But consider that to pay for his initial tax cut, President Reagan closed down mental health facilities around the country. As the artificial cap on revenues created by tax cuts force more and more spending cuts, the amount of funding is reduced for community health centers, mental health counseling and even for basic social safety net services, placing an increased burden on public sector health providers. A result of underfunded and overwhelmed community health providers increase the chances that someone like Adam Lanza--mentally unstable with easy access to automatic firearms--will fall through the cracks, with disastrous consequences.

Both anti-tax and pro-gun policies are vociferously supported by a minority of the population, which push their agenda on to the majority of the population. An interesting fact I saw this past weekend was that none of the 39 pro-gun Senators accepted an invitation to appear on Meet the Press and wax eloquently in defense of Second Amendment "freedoms." I wasn't necessarily shocked that these Senators refused to appear on Meet the Press so soon after 20 kindergartners were gunned to death, but I was surprised that there are only 39 pro-gun Senators. That is less than 40 percent of the Senate, and yet we are unable to seriously consider legislation for responsible gun control? Due to gerrymandered congressional districts, Republicans may have the majority in the House but only represent about 40 percent of the country's population. Is it appropriate that a majority of the country's population that wants sensible gun control is held captive due to the whims of a small yet vocal minority? And when it comes to the NRA, it boasts a membership over 4 million--and while that is clearly an impressive number of members, consider that 126 million Americans cast a vote for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney last month. So NRA membership represents about three percent of voters in the United States. Consider that the next time you're told that the majority of the American people want unrestricted and unfettered access to every sort of guns.

And it gets even worse when it comes to those who support--and benefit the most--from tax cuts. A plurality of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthiest, but we are stuck with a regressive tax policy that constrains the government with an artificial revenue cap. The discussions to avoid the fiscal cliff all revolve around whether or not to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent of the population, who have aggregated immense wealth over the past twelve years that would otherwise have circulated throughout the country's economy, perhaps even funding research to adopt a preventive approach to end gun violence. Instead, our country's wealthiest have unequally benefited from these tax policies, and have turned around and pumped huge swaths of money into the political system, ensuring that the tax policies that they benefit the most from continue to stay on the books--even if means taking such steps as closing mental health facilities or cut Social Security to be able to pay for these unnecessary and costly tax cuts.

The sad reality about pro-gun and pro-tax cut policies is that they are only two of many policies that are championed by conservatives that are both regressive and destructive in nature. One can only consider the examples of "model legislature" drawn up by the American Legislative Exchange Council that have been adopted by Republican statehouses around the country in recent years--voting ID laws that restrict access to the polls for certain segments of the population, laws that curtail collective bargaining for public-sector employees, public-education laws that are supposedly to protect teachers by sticking it to teachers unions'--to see the regressive nature inherent in policies championed by conservatives. But the fact that both the destructive nature as well as the arguments in favor of these policies--particularly in regards to "doubling down" in hopes that they might, eventually, work--are incredibly similar in nature is unique when it comes to the conservative arguments in favor of pro-gun and pro-tax cut policies.

In response to these destructive and regressive policies regarding increased access to guns and extending unnecessary and costly tax cuts for the rich, the majority of us need to make it clear that we demand a sensible approach to both gun control and tax policy in this country. Politicians supported by the NRA need to be publicly shamed, just as those that were supported by the KKK were publicly shamed in the early 20th century. Social security does not add a single penny to the deficit--there is no reason why it should be a sacrificial lamb for deficit-increasing tax cuts.

Seriously, when there are calls by legislators to arm teachers or to reduce the corporate tax rate to virtually nothing, all liberals, progressives, and pragmatic-minded Americans must demand an end to the madness that has sabotaged our public policy process when it comes to both guns and taxes!

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