Gilroy, CA, El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. Three deadly mass shootings in the space of less than a week earlier this month has brought the subject of “Gun Control” roaring back to the forefront of the 2020 Election. Way back in 2013, I wrote my first Op/Ed on the subject asking then Vice President Biden to “Focus on the Ammunition” instead of what I (correctly) predicted would be yet another failed attempt to restrict the guns themselves. Nearly five years later, I wrote again on how we could dramatically cut down on the number of mass shootings and save lives by taxing gunpowder/cordite. As I listen to all 20+ Democratic candidates again go down the same “doomed to fail” path of focusing on the guns themselves and trying to craft laws capable of predicting who is likely to go on a murderous rampage, it is clearly time to reexamine my FAR more doable idea of focusing on the ammunition instead of the guns themselves.

In my second Op/Ed (ibid), I remarked on comedian Chris Rock’s brilliant joke about how each bullet should cost “$5,000”. That’s a bit excessive, putting weapons of self-defense out of the hands of the “poor” and limiting them to the wealthy (most of whom can afford other security measures like alarms and guards.) Simply taxing the bullets would not solve the issue because MANY gun enthusiasts (my father included) make their own ammunition. When you do a lot of target shooting for fun, buying large amounts of commercially made ammunition can get quite costly. So many sportsmen “pack” their own ammunition. As such, simply taxing “pre-made” ammunition still leaves a gaping hole in limiting the number of bullets out there and risks driving the manufacture & sale of bullets underground (which would only make things worse.) But no one makes their own gunpowder (actually, bullets today use the more explosive propellant “cordite”, so we must include that in any tax), so there is little chance of getting around the ability to buy/make cheap ammunition in bulk.

So let’s examine the issues one-by-one:

1. Gun advocates believe their “Right to Bear Arms” is absolute. This is not the case. The only reason ANY restriction on gun ownership is legal is because the Second Amendment does NOT start with “dot dot dot” (as frequently seen in ads/banners/images of the text of the 2nd), it starts with the proviso: “Well Regulated”. Most people (even many gun rights supporters) falsely believe fully automatic weapons are illegal. They are not. They require extensive background checks, extremely steep licensing fees, proficiency certification, and a long waiting period, but you CAN still legally purchase a fully automatic weapon. So to some extent, they are correct that there is no such thing as a total gun ban. However, there is no “Constitutional Right” to an endless uninterrupted supply of cheap ammunition. In 2010, when Republicans tried & failed to get the “ObamaCare” mandate declared “unconstitutional”, Supreme Court Justice Roberts cast the deciding vote, noting that “Congress’s authority to tax is absolute. They could tax you for breathing if they wanted to”, he noted. Trying to restrict the purchase of ANY firearm is guaranteed to run into Constitutional challenges by the gun lobby which will tie the law up in court for years (during which time many more people will needlessly die) only for the bill to ultimately fail and nothing is actually done to prevent more gun deaths. Trying to ban certain types of guns is a waste of time. But a gun without ammunition is just a stick. Hashtag #ThinkOutsideTheBox.

2. Which brings us to “Background Checks”. Only people with a recorded history of criminal behavior or mental illness might be identified by a background check. How many times have we heard that the latest mass shooter “purchased their gun(s) legally?” The Bush-43 and Obama Administrations both saw the wisdom of preventing people suffering from “mental illness” from purchasing firearms. Yet, one of the FIRST things Trump did upon taking office was repeal the law that made it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns. Now they are all over the airways talking about how we need to stop the mentally ill from buying guns. Right. There is an extremely thin & blurry line between “dangerous nut who intends to murder people” vs “dangerous nut who thinks the gub’mint is out to get them.” In my humble opinion, anyone who hoards guns & ammo because they think the government coming to take away their hoard of guns & ammo is suffering from mental health issues and should be denied a gun. There is no “mental health check” that is going to accurately distinguish between the two. In the first month of the Clinton Administration when the FBI descended on Waco to stop a religious cult from selling unlicensed modified assault weapons across state lines, the siege was viewed by the gun-rights crowd as their worst fears realized: Democrats were coming for your guns. Lesson learned. Every time a Democrat is elected president, the NRA starts fear-mongering how “Democrats are coming to take your guns”. Yet in his eight years, the ONLY gun legislation signed into law by President Obama was to make it EASIER to bring a gun into a National Park. There is no way on God’s Green Earth you will ever be able to pass any meaningful/effective law that keeps guns out of the hands of “crazy people.” Those are the very people who BUY the most guns and keep the industry afloat. Background checks are still a vital tool towards stopping domestic violence, but not mass shootings like we saw in Gilroy, El Paso or Dayton barely a week ago. How many mass murderers were later found to have “passed a background check”? Instead, gun rights advocates would rather scapegoat things like “violent video games” rather than actually do anything meaningful about guns (yes, they’d rather place restrictions on buying “video games” than on the weapons players would then have to use to actually harm people.) Not only does every other nation on Earth play these games, but there are numerous studies showing “NO link between playing violent video games and real world violence”. To the contrary, they may actually provide potentially violent people with an outlet to act out their rage in the virtual world rather than in real life.

3. Also doomed to fail: Banning “certain types” of guns ambiguously classified as “assault weapons.” One of the biggest failures of the (otherwise effective) 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was that gun manufactures simply found ways around the law. A few simple changes to the appearance… removed the pistol grip, changed the stock to wood… turned an “AR15 Assault Rifle” into a completely legal “Ruger Mini-14”:

AR15 vs Ruger Mini-14
Same weapon. Same firing capability. Just a different look. Then there is the inevitable issue of “3D Printed Guns”. Cheap and No “background check”. Anyone with access to a 3D printer can make one. But no one is “3D printing” their own gunpowder. And what about the famed “gunshow loophole”, “strawman purchases” and private sales/gifting of firearms between individuals? All of these would continue to be missed by any enhanced “Background Check” process. But last I heard, they all still needed ammo.

4. Tax gunpowder to make “rapid-fire” weapons too costly to operate. If you are such a bad shot you require something capable of spraying bullets like confetti just to hit your target, you have no business firing a gun. The Dayton shooter had attached a “drum” magazine capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition. Bullets would essentially be priced according to caliber. The more propellant/deadly, the higher the cost. If the Dayton shooter’s bullets cost $100 each (based on the amount of gunpowder in them), a fully-loaded magazine would have cost him $10,000. “Extended clips” were banned in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. George W. Bush allowed that law to lapse. But even a 15-round extended clip means spending $1,500. We live in a time where many people can’t afford a surprise $600 expense (like car repair or dental visit) let alone waste several thousand dollars on a few dozen bullets. How many school shootings were committed by young kids? You think most kids can afford to set aside $2,000-$3,000 just to buy 20/30 bullets?

5. People will say, “Yeah, but a tax on future sales of gunpowder/cordite will do nothing about people who already own stockpiles of ammunition.” Au contraire mon frère. People who already have stockpiles of ammo would begin to ration it as the cost of replacing it goes up. And eventually, those stockpiles will be used up. About a month ago, my local grocery store discontinued my favorite salad dressing, so I stocked up. And despite now having a huge supply, I went through it slowly knowing I would not be able to replace it. The same thing here. No matter how much you have, people expend their supply more slowly knowing it will be difficult to replace.

6. Another argument: What about all the people who “target shoot” for fun? And the cost of training people to shoot accurately? Well, “gun ranges” & “gun safety classes” can sell their own ammunition at a reduced rate, require you to account for every shot fired (turn in your spent shells), and require you to turn in any unused ammo for a refund. And they will comply if they wish to keep their license (and access to a supply of cheap ammo.)

7. “What about Fireworks & Demolition? Innocent victims of your tax on gunpowder?” Well, first off, as noted in #5, most bullets today use “cordite” not gunpowder because it has more kick. “Class-C” (Common) fireworks like you purchase at your local fireworks stand actually contain very little gunpowder (and most are mixed with chemicals like phosphorus that produce bright colors but render it ineffective for ammunition.) And demolition experts use “Nitro” (which is already highly regulated & expensive) not “gunpowder”. So neither would be significantly impacted (if at all.)

8. Some Republicans like to try the “holier than thou” moral argument linking gun control to abortion: “If Democrats were truly concerned about saving lives, they’d oppose abortion which kills 20x as many ‘children’ each year.” Ignoring the nonsequiteur for a moment, the day paranoid gun nuts decided the mass murder of twenty innocent second graders and seven teachers at Sandy Hook was an acceptable price to pay just so they could continue to arm themselves to the teeth, they lost the moral high ground. But more to the point, there aren’t rogue doctors running around performing surprise-attack abortions… 20 to 30 in five minutes… against the will of the mother(s).

9. “People will still kill using cars, knives, even hammers.” Cars, knives & hammers have other uses. Bullets do not. And please list for me how many mass murders are committed in the United States each year using cars, knives or hammers? Stupid argument. And definitely not a legitimate reason for doing nothing about mass shootings that kill hundreds each year. The number of people killed by guns (including suicide) is the equivalent of a 9/11 every three weeks in this country. If al Qaeda were doing that instead of us doing it to ourselves, we would have dropped a nuclear bomb on them by now.

I tried to think of a Tenth good reason or bad excuse, but I couldn’t come up with one (update: I did. See comment #4.) No matter. Nine is more than enough. Tax gunpowder. Completely legal. Already deemed Constitutional by the Conservative Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Congress could enact it immediately. It’s a great compromise I think a lot of Conservatives would willingly embrace because it allows them to keep their word of protecting their constituents “Right to Bear Arms” while actually doing something constructive about gun violence. It takes the wind out of the sales of “Second Amendment” zealots who would fight to the death any restriction on their ability to purchase whatever firearm they want. And it is difficult to argue that anyone NEEDS hundreds of rounds of ammunition simply for personal safety. If you want to buy an AR15, an AK47, or even a MAC-10, I could care less. But if you want to load up with hundreds of rounds of military-caliber ammunition, prepare to lay out thousands of dollars and be red flagged by the ATF.


Writers Wanted Got something to say? Mugsy’s Rap Sheet is always looking for article submissions to focus on the stories we may miss each week. To volunteer your own Op/Ed for inclusion here, send us an email with an example of your writing skills & choice of topic, and maybe we’ll put you online!

RSS Please REGISTER to be notified by e-mail every time this Blog is updated! Firefox/IE users can use RSS for a browser link that lists the latest posts! RSS