Colorado Gun Tax Defeated
by Ari Armstrong, April 9, 2003
A proposal to impose a new tax on gun purchases was pulled from consideration after gun owners harshly criticized the measure. An April 3 Denver Post article by Julia Martinez states:
Senate Bill 289 was killed by its sponsor, Sen. Ron Teck, a Grand Junction Republican who was deluged with opposition from gun-rights advocates. The bill would have required gun buyers to assume the payment of $10 for a background check, to save the state $1.3 million. The state currently subsidizes the payment. Teck said the state will simply continue subsidizing the program with fewer staff to save money. He also warned that the wait times would be longer.
Martinez thus ridiculously suggests the failure to impose a new tax is the equivalent of granting a "subsidy." Denver Post columnist Reggie Rivers makes the same error in his April 4 article: "Valentin Soskina, 71, needs his Medicaid benefits because he's lost two-thirds of his stomach, one kidney and has heart problems, but apparently the legislature believes he doesn't need a government subsidy nearly as much as gun buyers."
Both Martinez and Rivers distort the meaning of the term "subsidy." A subsidy is a payment made by the government to a person or organization. The Brady gun registration scheme, along with the redundant state CBI check, is not somehow a benefit to gun owners: it is an unconstitutional and unjust imposition on gun owners forced upon them by statist politicians (and their sycophants in the popular media). Besides denying some gun buyers their rights based on incomplete and inaccurate records, the Brady system also forces gun buyers to register paperwork available on demand to national enforcement agents from the BATF.
According to the illogic of Martinez and Rivers, merely the failure of government to tax people more is the same thing as subsidizing them. They assume, then, that all income is inherently the property of the state, which may graciously allow us subjects the privilege of keeping some of it.
Here's an analogy. Clearly, some works of literature incite violence. Terrorists have been known to gain information and inspiration via the internet and through various books. Even popular newspapers may contain information of tactical advantage to terrorists. If the government first required every buyer of books and newspapers to register every transaction with the federal government, it would thereby be "subsidizing" readers unless it also imposed a special First Amendment Tax -- according to the thinking of Martinez and Rivers.
Obviously this notion, that an absence of a tax is the equivalent of a subsidy, would completely destroy the foundations of our free society if it were allowed to reach its logical conclusions. It's shocking that some whose very livelihoods depend on the protection of Constitutional rights put forth arguments that undermine those rights.
Yet even the editorial board of the Denver Post thinks it's a great idea to tax a Constitutional right and that the failure to impose such a tax counts as a "subsidy." On April 4, it published an editorial titled, "A good fee shot in the back:"
Ten bucks is a small price to pay for a right so many Coloradans hold so dear. Yet it was enough to kill a bill that could have saved the cash-strapped state $1.3 million a year. Had it been approved, Senate Bill 289 would have charged gun buyers $10 to cover the costs of the required background checks that the state now subsidizes... Sen. Ron Teck, a Grand Junction Republican, normally is one of the legislature's saner denizens. But on this one, he caved to pressure from the gun lobby, which no doubt blanketed his e-mail, filled his voice-mail and threatened his pocketbook. Teck, who collected $1,500 from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund in his last campaign, killed his bill this week... [W]e can't stomach asking gun buyers to shell out 10 clams to cover a much-needed state background check because it rankles the gun lobby? That's insane. Some gun owners argue that since the state requires the background check, it should pick up the tab. Using that theory, shouldn't the state also then cover the $15.60 it requires us to pay for our drivers' licenses? ...Why should everyone else in the state bear gun-owners' burden?
The Post also argued (again) that redundant CBI checks reduce crime, an unsubstantiated claim I previously addressed.
"Why should everyone else in the state bear gun-owners' burden?" But it's only the burden of gun owners because politicians have saddled them with the burden. If it were true the CBI checks are necessary to prevent crime, then they would rightly be the burden of every taxpayer. As I have previously argued, because law-abiding gun buyers deter crime generally, if anything they should be (really) subsidized, not punished.
The Post argues those burdened with additional regulations should be forced to pay the cost of those regulations. Similarly, the Jews in 1940s Germany were forced to pay extra taxes for their special treatment, which also included registration with the authorities. "Why should everyone else in Germany bear the Jews' burden?"
At least the Post printed four letters April 9 in opposition to its editorial position. I submitted a letter that wasn't printed:
The Denver Post has published two editorials favoring a new $10 tax on gun purchases. It would have been nice if, in even one of those editorials, the Post's writers had actually considered the arguments against the tax. I relate those arguments at the following two internet links.
Bernie Herpin of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition sent the following comments to the Post:
You try to equate the right of citizens to keep and bear arms with public funding for the arts or paying for the privilege of driving. I can find no reference in the Bill of Rights in either the U.S. or Colorado constitutions to the right of the people to look at pictures or attend a concert or even to drive. You also say you would oppose a higher cost on the exercise of this right. So it is OK to tax a right - just don't tax it too much? You correctly state that the federal government would provide the required background check (and this check is mandated federally, not by the state) without cost. If we used the federal system, we could save even more state money, as the CBI could reduce personnel and equipment costs by closing that office. However, you also correctly point out why the state voluntarily assumed this responsibility. It would seem you agree that the benefits of a state-administered background check outweigh its costs.... [T]he lawful firearm purchaser isn't the reason for this increased scrutiny... If this background check benefits the entire population by preventing guns from being purchased by bad guys, then it is only right that all citizens shoulder the cost, just as all citizens (including those who never commit a crime) shoulder the cost of law enforcement, the courts and the jails that also keep all of us safe.
Bill Lee offers an even more pointed criticism:
As a disabled veteran for the past 30-plus years, I believe I have paid a huge price for my constitutional right to keep and bear arms. I also paid a big chunk of the price for The Denver Post's constitutional right, under the First Amendment, to make the absurd statement that $10 is a cheap price to pay for a God-given right!
Gary Reed surmises of the Post's editorial writers, "So it's OK with them to tax a right granted by the Bill of Rights. In that vein, they should be willing to pay a tax every time they publish an editorial on any given subject - or a daily tax allowing them to publish this drivel." Finally, Mike Minear adds:
Your comparisons between a fee to purchase a gun and the fees for driver's licenses or vehicle-registration fees is typical of those who do not understand the difference between a constitutional right and other privileges. Driver's licenses and vehicle ownership are not constitutional rights. The right to keep and bear arms is a constitutional right... "A good fee shot in the back?" I think not. It's an immoral and unconstitutional idea put in its place.
I would add that a driver's license is necessary only to those who wish to drive on government-owned roads. We're perfectly free to drive on our own property without a license. So the Post's political standard is a socialized industry. Similarly, if the government owned all the printing presses and computers in the nation, it would surely "license" journalists -- but of course only those journalists who wrote the "correct" views.
Michael Bender wrote a March 31 article for Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel about the matter. Linn Armstrong told Bender, "...I'm surprised the state of Colorado would try to balance the state budget on the back of gun owners exercising their constitutional right." He suggested the state should instead offer tax breaks for buying guns, ammunition, and training.
Our rights are interconnected and interdependent. By undermining the right to keep and bear arms and the right of self-defense, the Post's editorial writers thereby also do violence to all our rights, including the right of free speech. Let's hope they can be persuaded of this point before they learn it the hard way.