A Small Something We Could Do...

Paul Evans

The fact is: guns do not kill people, bullets kill people.

Our hearts go out to the victims of Aurora. Once again a troubled spirit has taken lives and transformed a community. Over the past decade we have become almost accustomed to the grisly outbursts of troubled souls.

Here in Oregon, our memories flash to our own tragedy – Thurston (Springfield).

Sadly, we cannot undo the past. However, we can – we must – find a way to at least curb this spiraling threat.

We know that most tragedies occur with guns purchased legally.

We also know that most of the predators involved in mass killings are intelligent people that would likely find a way around policies and protocols devised to thwart the purchase of firearms.

At the risk of igniting a fire-storm, I offer a proposal for consideration: a concept for legislative action this coming year. Instead of focusing upon guns and gun laws, let us implement a tax upon bullets: a new tax levied upon all ammunition that is not categorized “for hunting [game] purposes.”

Additional exemptions could be made for public safety personnel for skills/training purposes (these people are already credentialed; other “products” already require proof of ID).

This tax would provide a “paper-trail” that could alert public safety personnel when extraordinary quantities are purchased (because of the spike in revenue reported) as well as likely decrease the lethality of an attack by a poorly resourced would-be terrorist.

This proposal invites attack from both “sides” of the gun debate: for gun-control advocates it will be viewed as a weak measure; for 2nd Amendment advocates it will be identified as the “beginning of the end…” for gun-ownership.

I am sensitive to both of these perspectives (and the people that sincerely hold them), but I reject the arguments. I refuse to stand silent witness to inaction. As a veteran, I have seen too many people die. Often these victims just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And while I do not believe this measure will prevent every nut-job from killing innocents at a public event, it will do something – and it can be passed – without threatening our liberties.

The fact is: guns do not kill people, bullets kill people.

So let us target the agency of destruction: bullets that are being used against people, instead of against clay targets and game. A fight over gun-ownership would require a fundamental rethinking of how many Americans understand liberty; it is a fight that would consume much, yield little.

Most of the gun-owners I know will not like the tax, but they will respect the differentiation between “hunting” and “non-hunting” uses. Reasonable people will understand that this measure (or something like it) both preserves gun-ownership and uses public agency to at least attempt to limit the carnage of events like Columbine, Thurston, Virginia Tech, and now Aurora.

We can do better, and we must.

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    Are bullets "arms?" There's your loophole.

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    Stop me if you've heard this one before: this tragedy never would have happened if only MORE people were armed. It's not that I'm anti-gun, it's just that I don't think the gun lobby is a credible source of public safety policy.

    I don't have a coherent thought to put together after that, but:

    • Street criminals will be supplied by the black market whether or not we maintain the status quo.
    • Under the status quo, retail stores will continue to arm homicidal maniacs who kill innocent people.
    • Legitimate gun users don't seem to mitigate crime (why doesn't the NRA push these stories).

    And then somewhere in here, there's an analogy between murderous rampages and al Qaida terrorist plots. Thanks to 9/11 and the liquid bombers, I can't fly with a tiny Swiss Army knife on my keychain, or with anything but a tiny tube of toothpaste—so then there were shoe and underwear bombers. Had everyone in Aurora armed themselves in response to nearby Columbine, the shooter's smoke screen rendered their defenses moot.

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    You do realize that Chris Rock came up with this idea a long time ago...

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    Logan, I didn't realize this. However, I have been advocating the bullet (and fish hook) tax as a policy concept since the early 1990s when I was mayor. With the targeting of resources for specified policy outcomes, it always made sense to me to provide a tax on bullets (dedicated for law enforcement/public safety), and a fish hook tax (dedicated to riparian rehabilitation). Thanks for the comment, I will search Chris Rock and read what he proposed.

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    There is no way to implement any system which will detect and intervene on a person like James Holmes. No tax, no registration, no restrictions. They will simply recognize the attempt to detect them and work around it.

    The idea that law enforcement will be able to tell when a person is dangerous based upon the amount of ammunition they use in a year is preposterous.

    Responsible people will be adversely impacted in their everyday lives. I take my shoes off every time i fly, and have an invasive xray or feel-up.

    I am a recreational shooter. I am not in law enforcement. I do not have a mental disease. There is no reason to tax my bullets.

    If you really want a system designed to detect possibly dangerous individuals you should propose making all mental health professionals make full disclosure of all patient information to some government agency, and require all people to engage in mental health treatment.

    Of course, the very few folks who are going nuts and killing people will refuse to cooperate with that system as well.

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      The idea that law enforcement will be able to tell when a person is dangerous based upon the amount of ammunition they use in a year is preposterous.

      No, but as Chris Rock notes, if bullets cost $5000, there will be no innocent bystanders.

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        If automobiles cost $500,000 there would be less traffic, less pollution and fewer fatal car crashes.

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          Automobiles have multiple uses, none of which is specifically to rip through flesh at high speeds. Bullets have a single function - to leave the barrel of a weapon and do damage to something- even if it's a paper target- when they arrive at their destination.

          You've just come up with one of the more ridiculous "equivalencies" I've read onlline.

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      So, we can't prevent people from driving drunk and killing innocent people. Or keep alcohol or drugs out of the hands of our children. Does that mean we should give up looking for solutions? While I don't agree that taxing bullets will fly (people hate taxes almost as passionately as they love their guns), something does have to be done. A majority of us shouldn't have to look over our shoulders at malls or in theatres wondering who might go off the deep end. And let's not forget that those that survived incidents like Aurora, CO will be dealing with mental and physical scars for the rest of their lives. WHERE DOES IT END?

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    Guns don't kill people, gun culture does.

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      I do not see how the "gun culture" is responsible for a schizophrenic break.

      schizophrenia |ˌskitsəˈfrēnēə, -ˈfrenēə| noun a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation. • (in general use) a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements.

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        Notice that none of that definition refers to violence.

        Which "inappropriate actions and feelings" someone suffering a schizophrenic break chooses relates to a cultural repertoire. Gun culture teaches us that threats and actualities of violence are appropriate ways to resolve conflicts (the true meaning of the apothegm "An armed society is a polite society"), externally and internally when projected onto the world.

        This applies in situations not involving schizophrenia as well, for instance having application to both "gang violence" and to police training, expectations and post-facto evaluation, legal judgments and policy around use of deadly force.

        Not sure where your diagnosis comes from, but I'm accepting it for the sake of argument.

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          In other words, gun culture isn't responsible for schizophrenic breaks, but can be responsible for what people suffering them do with them.

          Culture influences what we do with our feelings.

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