Two years ago next month, Jared Loughner killed six people and wounded 12, including seriously injuring Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, in a mass shooting in Arizona.
Earlier this year, James Holmes walked into a movie theater and unloaded countless rounds of ammunition into the audience during a showing of the new Batman film, killing 12 and wounding over 50.
While Holmes was armed to the teeth with gas canisters, two handguns, a shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle, Loughner needed nothing more than a Glock 19 with a high-volume magazine to carry out his rampage.
As long as guns, particularly handguns, are legal there is nothing we can do to prevent someone from sneaking one into a public event or movie theater and opening fire. There are, however, two ways to bring the body count way down:
Whether or not owning a gun makes you safer – you don’t need 31 rounds to fend off a burglar.
Second, make bullets really, really expensive.
Whether or not the Founders established a right to own assault weapons for recreational use – they certainly said nothing about ammunition being immune from the tax code. What was a joke not too long ago doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea now:
Currently .40 caliber bullets, used in the Aurora shooting, can be purchased online for as little as 24 cents per round. That’s less than a cigarette (just under 34 cents), two eggs (33 cents) or two slices of bread (28 cents), and is the same as four sticks of gum.
James Holmes bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition online in the months leading up to the shooting, but likely spent less than $2,000 dollars in order to do so. Buying bullets in bulk should cost at least enough money to set off a red flag with your credit card company the same way that buying too many household appliances at Sears does.
And think about it. We tax cigarettes to help pay for anti-smoking programs, and more generally, to help create a disincentive for smoking. Why not tax bullets to help create a disincentive for mass slaughter?
Though, remember that gun advocated immediately following September 11 wouldn’t let us check the FBI database to see if any suspected terrorists had bought guns. From the NYT, December of 2001:
The Justice Department has refused to let the F.B.I. check its records to determine whether any of the 1,200 people detained after the Sept. 11 attacks had bought guns, F.B.I. and Justice Department officials say.
The department made the decision in October after the F.B.I. asked to examine the records it maintains on background checks to see if any detainees had purchased guns in the United States.
Regardless of the lack of political will, had Loughner’s purchases set off a red flag, or had Loughner not been able to fire 31 rounds before needing to reload, more people would be alive today.
It is unlikely that guns will ever be outlawed in this country, and thus it is unlikely that gun deaths will ever completely cease. However, as Republicans have found with their efforts to end abortion rights, if you can’t ban something the next best thing is to make it difficult to access.
We’ve always been told that life is our most precious resource. The market currently prices the ability to take that resource at about 24 cents. It’s time to change that.