Can Taxes Really Help Stop Violence?

Gabrielle Karol

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, President Obama pledged to bring about serious change in order to prevent similar tragedies. On January 16, he made his first big move, introducing four legislative proposals and 23 executive actions all aimed at tightening gun control and stopping gun violence in the U.S.

These proposals included banning the sale and production of assault weapons and magazines with more than ten rounds, as well as closing loopholes regarding background checks. Additionally, the president proposed banning armor-piercing bullets, and getting tougher on “straw purchasers”–people who pass background checks on behalf of criminals, so they can obtain guns.

But a study conducted by the Department of Justice showed that the 1994 assault weapons ban failed to reduce the number of victims per gun murder incident, and local and state handgun bans have also been ineffective. So what would work better?

Taxing guns and treating gun violence like a public health issue, according to three Harvard University public-health researchers.

In January, the authors (Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H; David Hemenway, Ph.D.; and David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D.) published a paper in the Journal of American Medical Association, “Curbing Gun Violence: Lessons From Public Health Successes,” in which they compared gun violence to other public health issues, like motor vehicle safety, tobacco and unintentional poisoning.

Aside from being more effective, taxes may also be an easier sell to Congress: Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, said, “Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook … President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence.”

Even the president has expressed doubts that the proposed legislation will pass in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, especially given that the National Rifle Association (NRA) spent $20 million in the past election cycle on supporting legislators who would vote on behalf of gun rights.

We spoke with Dr. Hemenway to find out how raising taxes on guns and ammunition, exerting pressure on gun manufacturers to make necessary safety changes and changing social norms could go a long way toward effectively stopping gun violence—without taking away the right to bear arms.

  • Bart Modzelewski

    More taxing on law abiding citizens is a joke… How can you tax responsible gun owners? Aren’t we all taxed enough as it is?

  • Beccaod

    The problem that still isn’t fixed with all of these is the guns already out there and the disturbed people that will continue to cause harm if they aren’t helped. All this does is hurt those who are actually following the law and creating more opportunities for people to not. You don’t have to worry about the law abiding people, they aren’t the ones who will hurt people. 

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