The distinctly American issue at the core of the gun-control debate is gun-related violence. I understand Canadians have similar rates of gun ownership, yet they have a significantly lower rate of gun violence. What’s wrong with us? The gun control debate, especially wrapped, as it is, in our hyper-partisanship, will get us nowhere. It’s time to move beyond that and address the question of why Ameri-cans have a stronger tendency to use guns against each other, and how can we change that.
It isn’t enough for the left to say we should ban guns, rather they should say let us address why someone is moved to pick up a gun and use it for violence in the first place. It isn’t enough for the right to say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They need to say people are using guns to injure and kill innocent people, as gun owners and advocates, how can we ensure guns are not used this way?
A hundred years ago, wetland habitat in the United States was disappearing, to the detriment of wildlife that used these lands, including ducks, geese, and swans. The solution was the duck stamp. Every year, waterfowl hunters must purchase a duck stamp along with their state hunting license. The proceeds from the purchase of those duck stamps goes to protect wetlands across America.
Hunters support it because it protects habitat, thus boosting the numbers of their prey. Similarly the Pittman-Robertson Act places an excise tax on hunting equipment, the proceeds going to support wildlife conservation. The Dingell Johnson Act places a similar excise tax on fishing gear, with the proceeds going to advance fishing opportunities and protect aquatic habitat. These programs are widely considered tremendously successful by the very people who willingly pay these increased costs.
Let us apply the lessons of these conservation programs to gun violence in America. Let us move beyond the gun control debate and instead focus on identifying why someone picks up a gun to use it against an innocent person and address those reasons. Let us place a nationwide tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition. Proceeds from this tax would be managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who would dole them out through a competitive grant process to do two things: 1) identify why we have this proclivity to use guns in acts of violence, and 2) fund efforts to address those causes and otherwise decrease gun violence.
These monies could be used for mental health research that may be able to provide a means of identifying mass killers before they kill; they may be able to advance engineering that would make a weapon inoperable by anyone except its legitimate owner; they may simply be used to mount an effective gun safety campaign to prevent accidental shootings.
Such an approach would move the debate away from the gun and to the person wielding the gun. It engages gun manufacturers, the gun-rights lobby, and gun owners in the search for a solution to this problem. It puts us on the road to solving the problem of gun violence in America.