Gun violence is an enormous public health issue. The CDC reports that 37,000 Americans a year are dieing from gun violence and another 71,000 a year are being injured. That is over 100,000 gun shot victims a year. About 10 billion rounds of ammunition are sold in the US every year, and cases of 1,000 rounds are readily available on line. Do the arithmetic, there is about a 1 in 100 chance that at least one bullet in a 1,000 round case will end up being used to shoot a person. That is pretty scary. 1 in 100 is not common, but it is not all that rare, about the same as the odds of drawing a pair of aces in blackjack. But in blackjack, it is just a game of cards, with bullets we are talking about someone getting shot.
We need to focus on ammunition rather than guns. We now have something like 350 million guns in the US. These guns will last for decades. Even if we halt all gun sales today, the US will still be awash with guns for generations to come. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out twenty years ago, there is much less ammunition in circulation, and ammunition, unlike a gun, does not last forever. If we want to reduce gun violence in the near term, we need to focus on reducing the availability of ammunition.
We hear a lot about the need for freedom and personal responsibility these days. The people buying and selling ammunition need to take responsibility for the mayhem that they are causing. The CDC estimates that firearm injuries and death cost the US $37 billion dollars a year. About 10 billions rounds of ammunition are sold every year in the US. That works out to about $3.70 per bullet in deaths, medical care and lost wages. Would $3.70 per bullet tax cause a big increase in the cost of ammunition? Ammunition is currently available for less than $0.10 per round for many guns so yes, the tax would cause a big increase in the price of ammunition. Would a tax on ammunition reduce gun violence. We know that cigarette and alcohol taxes are highly effective measures at reducing consumption of these dangerous substances. There is every reason to expect that a significant tax on ammunition would be similarly effective in reducing the injuries and deaths caused by ammunition.
We can also do much more to control who is buying ammunition. Right now, ammunition is available at low cost, anonymously to anyone over the internet. Ammunition is a very dangerous product. It kills or injures 100,000 people a year in the US. The Second Amendment stipulates the need for “a well regulated militia”. Pretty much anyone seems to be able to get a hold of a gun, and having procured a gun, anyone can get ammunition in large quantities. Clearly, we have failed in our responsibilities to maintain a well regulated environment within which our citizens can bear arms. Along with a tax on ammunition, we need to much more tightly regulate who can buy ammunition, of what type and how much. People buying ammunition must be required to provide proof that they carry liability insurance for its use. Given the frighteningly high rate at which bullets are used to shoot people, it is amazing that we do not do this already. All too often, shooting victims do not sue their shooters because there is no realistic possibility of recovering damages that would come close to compensating a family for a lost member or a seriously injured survivor for hospital bills and rehabilitation that will be required after the injury. We require drivers to carry liability insurance because driving a car can cause injury to others. We need to do the same for firearms.
We can control gun violence, and we can do it with measures that will be effective now, not a generations from now. Putting a significant tax on ammunition, and requiring gun owners and ammunition buyers to demonstrate proof that they carry liability insurance would be a good place to start.