1
$\begingroup$

The citizens of the USA wants to keep the second amendment, the right to own and bear arms.

So to lower the amount of killings going on by rampaging vigilantes the US have put tax on bullets where as every bullet sold have a tax of 1000 usd.

How would that effect:

  • Illegal weapon sales.
  • Passion crime.
  • Rage from people being angry about the law / or meh's from people who don't care.
$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It is ok if you down vote, but it is good customs to leave a comment about why. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Aug 13 '15 at 12:41
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Downvoted because it's not really World Building, it's just a vague question asking what would happen if bullets in the USA were really expensive. It's also kind of opinion based and geared more towards idea generation. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Aug 13 '15 at 13:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Webkanguru This site is all about vague questions and their effect on the world we're attempting to build. Just because the world OP is building happens to be this one is irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Aug 13 '15 at 14:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd like to hear more about these rampaging vigilantes that are supposedly running through the streets shooting people. $\endgroup$ – GrandmasterB Aug 13 '15 at 17:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Making ammo is really easy to do. I suspect you'd end up with lots of home made ammo available everywhere with lots of semi-legal ways to get it (free bullets with the purchase of a 32 oz drink!) and lots of illegal ones as well. Specialty ammo would be the only thing significantly impacted, and people would probably just buy that in Mexico or Canada and ship it to themselves. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Aug 13 '15 at 18:04
7
$\begingroup$

Some side effects if bullets really were $1,000 each, no matter how unlikely that is:

  • Humans with guns have taken the role of apex predator in settled countries. Who will keep the deer population down? Bowmen? Wolves?
  • Serious sports shooters might have thousands of bullets at home at the time of the new law. An afternoon of training on the range will require several hundred, and they won't like to buy new ammo every week. Are they now instant millionaires?
  • Gun owners with a few cases of ammo will be extremely reluctant to expend their stockpile, but they could sell them one at a time if they need money. One round could feed a family for a month.
  • They might decide to keep the last magazine (or the last half magazine, or the last round) for self-protection. After a few years, there could be plenty of gun owners with lethal weapons and absolutely no training in their safe use. When they think there is a burglar, or whatever, the shot could go anywhere.
  • Those who are issued tax-free ammo (cops, soldiers, ...) could be terribly tempted to juggle their training allowances. Can the range master really tell if a cop fired 100 or 99 rounds for training?
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1 for the last comment alone: the black market for 'untaxed' ammo would be massive. $\endgroup$ – Jared Smith Aug 13 '15 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ And the introduction of the tax would be a mess. If old stockpiles are 'grandfathered in' then those who own them will make a 500,000% profit overnight. How to avoid insider trading? If not, what happens to the old ammo? $\endgroup$ – o.m. Aug 13 '15 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'd imagine they'd do something similar to what they did for gold during the great depression. With similar but magnified results. We'd probably already be at that point were it not for the massive drop in violent crime per capita in the US since the 90's. $\endgroup$ – Jared Smith Aug 13 '15 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ Btw, adding a \$1000 tax to bullets doesn't mean that black-market bullets will be worth \$1000. They would most likely be worth much less than that, since the purchaser is taking the risk of breaking the law. Assuming demand holds up they would be worth more than they are now, so there's a potential profit for criminals who hold them and those holding them who choose to become criminals. I don't know if there's a good rule of thumb for what untaxed illegal versions of legal goods are worth, but I suppose that smugglers would be the people to ask since it's their business to evade import duty. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jun 24 '16 at 9:15
15
$\begingroup$

TL;DR

Gun crime rates increase

The answer is better put as "we don't really know, but available data indicates gun crimes are more likely to go up."

But if you are not satisfied with that answer (I wouldn't be), please read the rest.

The details

First, you should read Don't blame crime on legal gun owners - Danbury News-Times 2007

The numbers

It says:

  1. Seventy-eight percent of all shooting deaths are drug-, gang- or other criminal-related incidents committed with unregistered guns wielded by non-licensed criminals.

  2. Eight percent are shootings by police or security personnel.

  3. Less than 1 percent are shootings by legal gun owners committing a crime.

  4. Six percent are legal gun owners protecting life, limb and property (homeowners, shop owners, etc.).

  5. Eight percent are miscellaneous (suicide, hunting accidents, accidental discharges, etc.).

  1. is committed by repeated offender criminals using illegally acquired weapons (78%), your plan has no effect.
  2. is committed by police and other law enforcement (8%), your plan has no effect.
  3. is committed by legal gun owners committing a crime (1%), your plan may discourage some of these but it is difficult to determine what percent. My suspicion is the number will be small (in a crime of passion, the perpetrator is unlikely to perform a cost/benefit analysis) so I won't hazard a guess. Net benefit assume 0%.
  4. is committed by legal gun owners protecting themselves (6%). Your plan is likely to prevent a high percent of these (the very high cost of defending yourself means few could afford to keep a ready supply of ammunition). I'd assume that at least 5% of these will result in the death of the owner. Net benefit +1% (fewer deaths).
  5. are miscellaneous and difficult to consider because it's a mishmash of gun related deaths from unrelated causes (8%). I'd assume about 1/2 (4%) of these might be saved. Net benefit +4% (fewer deaths)

Net benefit +5% (gun deaths go down), but the margin of error is probably on the order of 5% too.

You have to consider that some gun-related deaths are prevented when the victim defends themselves with a gun or the criminal fear the owner can defend himself. These incidents in which the presence of a gun prevented a crime are not considered in these statistics. We would have to increase gun deaths by some unknown quantity to account for the increases in death from these. Net benefit -?% (you need to increase the death rate to account for these by some unknown amount).

Furthermore, some gun related deaths would occur regardless of the weapon used. Suppose your plan prevents a gun related death due to a crime of passion. The perpetrator may not kill their victim with a gun but they might use a car, knife, or cutting the brake line of the victim's car. We don't have a good idea of what percent of the prevented gun deaths will still occur but be done with other means. This number is not 0. Net benefit -?% (you need to increase the death rate to account for these by some unknown amount).

At best, you will see similar (97% +/-3%) rates of gun crime. At worst, you will see a sharp increase in gun crime to a new stable equilibrium point. Some of the works cited below indicate the increase could be by as much as 26% (but I suspect the number would be substantially lower). My guess is rates would go up, but probably not more than 10% +/-5%.

All of these numeric guesses are based upon my evaluation of the data provided in the cites in the next section.

Causes of violent crime

Another informative thought on this is that violent crime correlates strongly with certain race/ethnic groups and regions with mixed races/cultures. So the high rates of gun crime in the US may be due more to the "Melting Pot" nature of our country and less to do with the availability of guns.

Also, mono ethnicity countries with high gun ownership rates often have very little gun crime.

and as much as it shows a trend, examination of gun ownership in various countries shows that

The relationship between homicide rates and the supposed measure of gun ownership provided the Small Arms Survey shows that even with their obviously biased measure of gun ownership, more guns ownership is associated with fewer homicides, though the relationship is not statistically significant

Meaning this data doesn't support either argument (guns cause violent crimes or guns prevent violent crimes).

Within the US, there is some data that suggests increased gun controls increases crime rates (this source is highly biased in favor of gun ownership, but also has a reputation for not bending the facts). There are many factors which may contribute to the decline in violent crime rates after lifting the gun bans in Chicago and Washington DC (e.g. a generally improving economy) - so it is difficult to determine how much of influence the lifting of the gun ban had.

Blaming guns for violence isn't supported by available data. People making the argument that guns are the cause of violence usually don't understand that people are complicated. Problems due to the adverse interactions between many people can't be solved with with laws designed from sound bites by politicians.

Other thoughts

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

--H. L. Mencken

Chances are if there is a problem that has been around for a while and the answer seems obvious, the reason it hasn't been solved is because the obvious solution doesn't work.

All across the US many different variants of gun control laws have been tried and the data suggests they haven't worked. This indicates that gun control falls squarely into this category.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Guns don't cause violence. But without guns violence tends to be less serious... $\endgroup$ – Tim B Aug 13 '15 at 13:17
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This is what I call sound bite politics. I don't believe such statements unless there's research that backs it up. I've heard "knife wounds and being hit by a car are more deadly than gun shots" but I don't include that as a "fact" because I haven't read authoritative sources which support that common wisdom. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Aug 13 '15 at 13:25
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ mediamatters isn't an objective. You either ignored my point or didn't get it. I did not make the case that the US doesn't have gun crime. I stated that gun crime doesn't correlate to well to guns. Or perhaps better stated as, violent crime correlates far better to other factors and race and heterogeneity of cultures. Many countries with high gun ownership and homogeneity of cultures have low violent crimes - including the UK. The UK is an interesting experiment because as it's cultural heterogeneity increases, so has its violent crimes - even though gun ownership remains about the same. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Aug 13 '15 at 14:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ #1 does actually have effect; if these illegal bullets are normally stolen, but suddenly people stop storing them, then they will be harder to obtain. Especially in the middle of the country, far from the borders where they can be smuggled, this might have considerable effects. $\endgroup$ – Erik Aug 13 '15 at 14:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Erik, but bullets can be relatively easily made. They can also be easily smuggled from countries without the tax. The one thing you can count on is criminals by definition don't follow the laws (especially tax laws). You can count on them to not "declare" their smuggled bullets as they cross the border. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Aug 13 '15 at 15:33
10
$\begingroup$

Taxes this punitive are pretty clearly (and explicitly, in this case) an attempted end-run around the second amendment of the Constitution. If there's not sufficient political will in the U.S. to repeal the amendment outright, via the drafting and ratification of a new amendment, it's not a good idea to try to override the will of the people in this way, not even a slight minority of people.

The law will be loudly challenged in hundreds of court cases all across the land, and there's essentially no way that it will survive. If, through some incredible and sustained legal gymnastics, the tax did remain in force, the resulting precedent would cast a menacing shadow on the rest of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. If our government has the precedent for effectively nullifying the second amendment, why not the first? Or the fourth or fifth? "No unreasonable search or seizure, as long as the suspect pays us $10,000" seems like a very bad way to run things.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "Free speech (with purchase of additional speech of equal or greater value)." $\endgroup$ – Doug Warren Aug 13 '15 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ See the 18th amendment $\endgroup$ – Clearer Nov 30 '15 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ No establishment of religion, provided you pay the fee to be excused it. This was pretty much the situation in Elizabethan England, where there was a fine for non-attendance of church. The fines were intentionally so steep that they were unpayable, and led to imprisonment. Primarily designed then to punish Catholics, but the modern applications are clear. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jun 24 '16 at 9:10
5
$\begingroup$

Taxes that high, if sustained and not ruled as punitive by some legal body or a restriction of free speech, would make the firearms industry collapse overnight. Prior to the tax taking effect, gun owners would stockpile ammo like mad! Most ammo producers would go out of business. Mergers and acquisitions would be very common before and after the tax went into effect.

Also, taxes this high would actually increase violence because $1000USD per round is fertile ground for an ammo black market. The current violence around drug cartels comes from fighting over the production and sale of a very high profit margin commodity. Americans will still want their ammo, they'll just now be willing to go through non-sanctioned dealers to get it.

I'm not sure it would have any effect on illegal weapon sales because now the ammo is just as black-market as the weapon itself.

Passion crimes might go down, but there's a lot of ammo out there already and it only takes one bullet.

Many many militias will see increased recruitment based on what many will see as a move by the guv'ment to "take their guns and rape their daughters". The average person will either not care or will be happy about it. If you live in a city, then you'll probably be happy that ammo is no longer so easily available. If you live in the country, you'll be very upset. (That's a generalization, of course.)

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Your question is tagged as "law" and "weapons". Let's start from there...

A law is only as useful as it is enforceable. No government of any world, even a dictatorship, would implement a "law" which would be that "extreme". So, the basic assumption that while it is possible for the government to enact that law, that the government will, in fact, ever do that, is not reasonable.

Further, bullets are only effectively priced because of market forces.... and the competition for bullet-manufacturers is home-made bullets.... it is surprisingly easy to make a bullet, so taxing bullets more, will just make manufacturers use unofficial channels. Which undermines the enforcement too.

Outside of that, though, the law can be circumvented by "traditional" means, like buying things from Mexico, or Canada, or "Amazon.com", whatever. Channels (even legal ones) will open up where it can happen.

So, on a practical level, the law will just divert the sales channels to alternative places, and won't necessarily resolve the original problem.

The kickback for the government will also be impressive.... I suspect an immediate "revolution" would be possible, and the government would be re-elected in no time. Politicians would almost immediately lose their funding, etc. It won't take long for the system to rebalance in a way that suits the population.

So, that brings me to the only plausible way that a system like this could happen.... slowly, and by the will of the majority.

Conceptually, taxing each bullet 1 cent, would be OK, then, a few years later, make it 5, then 20, then a dollar, and so on, until 50 years down the line the price of a bullet is mostly tax.

The process would have to be slow, and take a generation, or two...

.... funnily enough, that system works quite well. Consider your own income... there was a time, in Canada, abut 100 years ago, when that was not taxed at all. It was only during WWI that income tax was introduced in Canada. It was introduced as a temporary measure.... ;-)

The trick is to use a small wedge, and make it bigger, and bigger.

That's the only way it would work, and the scenario you present is unrealistic in any system, not just the USA

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Ordering from outside us would make import tax apply. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Aug 13 '15 at 15:19
4
$\begingroup$

People will always seek to avoid tax legally or otherwise. Bullets would offer a massive black market opportunity. Lots of ammunition intended for law-enforcement and military use will find its way to the streets. A lot of black market ammo will be of very low quality due to lack of regulation in back-street factories being potentially dangerous to the user and damaging to the gun.

Interest would grow in high powered air guns and bows/crossbows.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent point. People will seek to minimize their costs. If legal means(cost of manufacture + taxes) > blackmarket(cost of manufacture + smuggling + chance of being caught * cost of being caught), then people will purchase them through the black market. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Aug 13 '15 at 16:30
1
$\begingroup$

Jim2B's and Doug Warren's answers are excellent. In addition to their points one thing that would probably happen if you managed to pull this off is that the suicide rate would decline. Guns account for a pretty good percentage of successful US suicide attempts. Unlike the connection with violent crime which as Jim2B points out is something of an open question, other methods of suicide tend to not be as effective.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ JaredSmith, I recently had a suicidal daughter. The counseling we've had on this indicate that the thought process isn't "I have a gun" -> "I want to kill myself", it is "I want to kill myself" -> "what means are available". Meaning getting rid of guns will improve the "gun suicide" rates but will have negligible impact on the overall suicide rate. Depressed individuals will switch to other available means. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Aug 13 '15 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim2B I'm sorry about your daughter. Have had to deal with (fortunately unsuccessful) suicide attempt in my own family. However I think you missed my point: gun ownership would not have any effect on the rate of suicide attempts, but would have a definite impact on the rate of suicide deaths. Shooting yourself is far more certain than cutting/drugs/etc. Not all suicidally inclined individuals will make multiple attempts if the first fails. Suicide tends to be an act of impulse following a long depression. Having a gun among the 'means available' will increase the likelihood of success. $\endgroup$ – Jared Smith Aug 13 '15 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim2B I am very sorry for your experience, so I will try my best to tread lightly with my words, and please forgive if I overstep. I've always been under the impression that a gun makes it easier to cause consequences because everything happens in a moment. From the little experience I have with suicidal individuals (read: research, not personal experience), actually committing suicide is markedly difficult, psychologically. Denial of a tool which is highly effective for acting first and dealing with consequences later wont decrease how many are suicidal, but could decrease actual suicides. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Aug 13 '15 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ This comes from my perspective of "suicidalness" being a bistable continuum, not a binary switch. If that perspective does not mesh well with your personal experiences, please excuse my models and my words... they are made entirely of third-party experience. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Aug 13 '15 at 19:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you check the stats on afsp.org (afsp.org/understanding-suicide/key-research-findings) it is estimated that the death rate for using firearms is about 80-90%, while the estimated death rate for overdosing on something poisonous is a mere 1.5-4%. That means with a gun you are around 25 times as likely to actually kill yourself before you can get professional help and maybe turn your life around. $\endgroup$ – Erik Aug 14 '15 at 5:52
1
$\begingroup$

From the answers, you can draw a metaconclusion: knee-jerk legislation fails to do the intended job, 100% of the time. All it does is anger everyone and give them the impetus to seek ways to subvert the law. Along the way, they end up not only subverting it completely, but learning how to subvert other laws as well, leaving you worse off than you were before. The legislation has to have the air of trying to be a just and balanced law, or it simply fails.

A case study in this is cryptography. There was a time in the '90s where high grade cryptography was graded as a military grade munition, and subject to the same export laws. But there's a difference between munitions and crypto: crypto is an idea. As a result of this knee-jerk legislation, we got a rash of T-shirts with the RSA algorithm printed on it, pointing out just how ridiculous munitions could look. I know I heard of (hopefully joking) discussions of tatooing illegal immigrants with it to make it impossible to deport them.

What was the end result of this law? No surprise, the crypto was already outside of the boarders. The math was only written down in peer reviewed journals distribute around the world. Zero foreign countries were denied access to crypto. The only actual effect was an entire subgroup of geeks who were pissed at the government for making their life unnecessarily difficult.

Now imagine, if instead of being a bunch of crypto geeks (disclaimer: I am one), imagine if these were individuals who are willing to put their life on the line to protect the right to bear arms they believe the second amendment provides them.

Oh, and as a detail: the ones you don't want having bullets have been stockpiling. The Obama ammo scare caused a large number of individuals to stockpile, and while many of those were just upstanding citizens concerned for their way of life, the nutjobs were in that category as well.

Oddly enough, one of the largest stockpilers of bullets at the time was US government agencies. Sure, it may just be a correlation of the data, but it is interesting, isn't it.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Also, as a side note: it is trivial to make bullets, when compared to how hard it is to live a life of crime. Anyone whose livelihood depends upon a supply of untaxed bullets will find the time to make them. However, all of those who aren't in crime as a business may find it difficult to pay to get them properly, leaving 100% of criminals armed while disarming 99% of the population. The result will be as catastrophic as you think it will. On the flip side, that'd be one more way to catch criminals on tax evasion charges! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Aug 13 '15 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ As you point out, during that time personal purchases of bullets was in the (IIRC) single digits of % of ammunition purchases (federal government & law enforcement were doing all the buying). Even federal agencies whose primary mandate does not include operating firearms were purchasing ammunition (FEMA, Department of Agriculture, & USPS). All in all they purchased more than a billion rounds of ammunition. So when we talk about nutjobs, remember the biggest nutjob is our own government. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Aug 13 '15 at 18:51

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.