Commentary: How should Americans pay for gun violence?

By Michael Leppert

It’s not the cigarette that causes cancer and emphysema, the smoking of it does.

Likewise, it’s not the car that causes drunk driving deaths, the drunk driver does.

During my lifetime, America has responded to both of these public health crises in a variety of ways. I realize 52

Michael Leppert is a public and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis and writes his thoughts about politics, government and anything else that strikes him at

years is a long time, but when I was born in the ’60s, 45 percent of Americans smoked cigarettes. In 2017, that number had shrunk to 14 percent . And that was not dumb luck.

Do we have a gun violence problem? I would imagine affirmative responses to that question would poll similarly to the support for universal background check policies for gun purchasing – in the90s.

The policy debate right now in the public spotlight on guns is leaving out what has been the most effective tool in fighting smoking and drunk driving: economics. I agree that we should be talking about background checks, red flag laws and limiting or banning the availability of certain types of guns. But why aren’t we even discussing what gun violence costs us every year and who should pay for it?

This is a mistake.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NFFN) in its “Firearms and Ammunition Economic Impact Report of 2019,” shared some impressive data. It found that the industry impacted the national economy by $52 billion last year. A little less than a third of that was spent on wages for 311,000 direct and indirect jobs in the industry. This is their good news.

The NFFN report goes on to tout the $6.8 billion it generates in taxes. This number combines federal and state taxes, and specifically, the federal excise tax on guns and ammunition. That last number generates $653 million a year. It is a tax that was enacted in 1919, but is one we do not talk about much.  Again, we should change that.

In April of 2015, Mother Jones published its data investigation, “The True Cost of Gun Violence,” in collaboration with Dr. Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. The research gathered data on the obvious direct costs of the problem. Costs related to police, emergency transport, medical, mental health, legal services and adjudication and incarceration were quantified. But it also included indirect costs like work costs to victims and perpetrators, employer costs and loss of quality of life.

It found that gun violence costs us $229 billion annually. That number has likely only risen in the four years that policy makers have ignored its staggering findings. At the time, that number was almost as much as taxpayers spent on Medicaid.  These numbers also do not contextually capture things that have rapidly changed in the last four years either, like the costs of active shooter drills in our schools and other enhanced security measures.

The Las Vegas mass shooting alone has been estimated to cost the people of that city approximately $600 million. Of course, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions did find a way to issue the city a $2 million grant to help offset the costs to the local police there.

There is no way around the math. Those participating in the gun industry in America are not paying their share of what their industry costs.

The gun market only generates about 3% of what it costs all of us. About a third of America lives in a household with a gun in it, which means an extreme majority of us do not participate in the gun market at all.

But we are all paying for the cost of gun violence.

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility reports that since 1982, drunk driving fatalities have decreased by 48%. Did we tax cars or booze in a substantially different way? Not so much. The economic engine for policy change in that arena was more directly tied to road funding. The feds forced the states to get tougher on it. And insurance is now almost unaffordable for those with a drunk driving record.

Economics works. We just have to let it.

Gun manufacturers and their customers can spout off the “shall not be infringed” mantra all they like. The good guys with the guns are stiffing the American taxpayer though.

On Aug. 12, Sen. Mike Braun said “I’m a believer that if we want to keep our Second Amendment rights intact, without something more drastic down the road, we’ve got to embrace some common-sense stuff.”

Taxing the “cost causers” of any public expense is about as American as it gets. Maybe that’s where this debate should have started.

If a 100 year old tax does not “infringe,” maybe getting the tax rate right right doesn’t either.

Michael Leppert is a public and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis and writes his thoughts about politics, government and anything else that strikes him at

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6 Responses to Commentary: How should Americans pay for gun violence?

  1. Why not simply hold people accountable for their actions? Making good people helpless against people that aren’t stopped by all of the laws being demanded is as useless as it is immoral.
    If you’re truly serious about this issue of wanting to stop these incidents, please give me a law to present that will actually stop these incidents. Otherwise, it’s just more infringements on the rights of innocent people.

  2. Pretty sure the lawful use of firearms doesn’t cost the taxpayers any amount of money every year…

    Hold the people who cause the damage responsible for those costs, anything else is just picking the easy target.

    And your comparisons to drunk driving and smoking are false, legal gun owners are NOT the problem, and should not be responsible for funding your crusade.

  3. I went back and re-read this and this is straight out of the Tyranny 101 playbook.
    Transfer personal responsibility from the individual while socializing the care of everyone “for the good of the people” and then use that ever-increasing cost (because nobody is responsible for themselves, because somebody else is paying for it) as justification to infringe individual rights and liberty.
    Keep the people scared and in need of a savior.
    Government being that savior.
    This is the same playbook that man, and governments, have been using since man walked the earth. The Founding Fathers knew and understood this, which is why the Constitution intentionally restrains government and intentionally protects our individual rights.
    Tyranny 101, this is it!

  4. I’ve long thought all gun owners should be required to purchase liability insurance – just like car owners must do. People who want to possess deadly weapons should accept personal responsibility for them. Then accidental as well as criminal injuries and property damage would be covered by the insurance. Since liability insurance alone wouldn’t reimburse governments and schools for their increased security costs, taxation would provide a way to meet those extra costs. Better still would be proof that one has completed training for the safe storage, maintenance, and use of guns. These provisions would not solve all gun deaths, but they’d surely save some while making gun owners legally liable for injuries, deaths, and property damage resulting from their gun.

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