Paying for Gun Violence

50 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2018

See all articles by Samuel D. Brunson

Samuel D. Brunson

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: September 27, 2018

Abstract

Gun violence is an outsized problem in the United States. Between a culture that allows for relatively unconstrained firearm ownership and a constitutional provision that ensures that ownership will continue to be relatively unchecked, it has proven virtually impossible for politicians to address the problem of gun violence. And yet, gun violence costs the United States tens of billions of dollars or more annually. These tens of billions of dollars are negative externalities — costs that gun owners do not bear themselves, and thus that are imposed on the victims of violence and on taxpayers generally.

What can we do about these costs? One way to reduce them would be to pass meaningful laws, laws that would reduce the likelihood of gun violence. In light of both the culture and the Constitution of the United States, though, such legislation seems improbable. Lawmakers face significant limitations on their ability to regulate firearms directly. If they cannot prevent gun violence, though, they can at least cause gun owners to internalize the costs. Where direct regulation is difficult, they can turn instead to a Pigouvian tax.

In this Article, I propose a Pigouvian tax on firearms. The tax would be a hybrid excise tax and property tax, imposed at the state or local level. Legislatures would set tax rates that roughly approximated the amount of externality that gun violence created in their jurisdiction, and would use the revenue to reimburse individuals and governments for the costs they bore from gun violence. Such a tax would have little problem passing the constitutional muster, and, while it might have little behavioral impact, at least it would serve the interim purpose of making society financially whole, and requiring gun owners to bear a larger percentage of the costs of gun ownership.

Keywords: gun violence, pigouvian tax, excise tax, property tax, tax, negative externalities, guns, firearms, second amendment, direct taxes, takings clause, ex post facto clause, heller, shootings, earmarking, constitutional law, constitution

JEL Classification: H23, K34

Suggested Citation

Brunson, Samuel D., Paying for Gun Violence (September 27, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3256473 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3256473

Samuel D. Brunson (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
61
rank
339,810
Abstract Views
382
PlumX Metrics