Amid the continuing misguided cry to “just do something” following a handful of high-profile mass murders, one U.S. congressman apparently believes the key to stopping such violence is hitting law-abiding gun purchasers squarely in the pocketbook.
Rep. Donald Beyer (D-Va.) is proposing a 1,000% excise tax on what he calls “AR-15-style” guns. Beyer, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee, sees the move as an alternative way to effectively ban semi-automatic firearms.
“What it’s intended to do is provide another creative pathway to actually make some sensible gun control happen,” Beyer told Insider.com. “We think that a 1,000% fee on assault weapons is just the kind of restrictive measure that creates enough fiscal impact to qualify for reconciliation.”
Since the proposal is a tax measure, it could bypass the U.S. Senate’s 60-vote threshold to bypass a filibuster, making it much easier to successfully push through that body than more straightforward gun-control measures, which typically fail with the Senate’s current makeup.
Of course, such a tax on any firearm would be devastating for those wishing to purchase common semi-automatic rifles. For those short on math skills (I had to use a calculator.), the tax on a mid-range $1,500 AR-15 would be $15,000, resulting in a total price of $16,500.
The move brings to mind the famous statement of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who in 1819 wrote: “The power to tax involves the power to destroy.” In this case, the power to tax would involve the power to destroy the ability to purchase such firearms for most law-abiding gun owners without affecting criminals, which studies have proven typically get their firearms in other manners than in lawful sales from licensed dealers.
A study by Bureau of Justice Statistics that looked at state and federal inmates found that only a small fraction of them acquired firearms through the type of retail sale that would be subject to the proposed tax. The overwhelming majority of offenders obtained firearms through “friends or family” or “street/illegal sources.”
Consequently, the burden of Beyer’s tax would fall on law-abiding gun owners, who bear absolutely no blame for criminal misuse of firearms. Some of the burden would also fall on gun manufacturers, who would almost certainly see the sales of semi-automatic rifles tumble.
Additionally, while the burden would be prohibitive for most Americans, it would be even greater for low-income Americans who want to practice their Second Amendment rights—often in very dangerous areas where they need the right to keep and bear arms the most.
Of course, Beyer’s scheme is nothing new, as politicians across the country have proposed such measures before, despite the fact that they largely affect only Americans who behave in a lawful manner. Seattle passed a $25 additional tax on guns and ammunition several years ago, which hurt both law-abiding gun purchasers and retailers. Cooke County, Ill., also passed a law placing a $25 tax on guns and 5 cent tax on each round of centerfire ammo sold, along with a 1-cent tax on rimfire cartridges. The tax was later upheld by a state court of appeals.
Fortunately, the state Supreme Court, in 2021, flatly rejected the tax by a unanimous 6-0 vote. At the time, one justice wrote that the state constitution “plainly states that the right of the individual to keep and bear arms is subject only to the police power, not the power to tax.”
In the end, Beyer’s extremely punitive tax scheme, like any other plan to tax firearms protected by the Second Amendment out of the financial reach of most Americans, is misguided, as it targets only the law-abiding, leaving violent criminals to do what they do. Of course, the same can also be said of nearly every other gun-control proposal currently under consideration in Congress and in the states.