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What if 'Gun Control' Is Impossible?

That doesn't mean we can't ban some, make them a lot harder to get -- and maybe even tax the hell out of them.

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Taxation is not a remotely complete or perfect solution. Cigarettes are taxed at a punitively high rate in New York. People still smoke, and there is now a lucrative black market in cigarettes, usually enriching extremely unsavory people. And it wouldn’t do as much to prevent domestic gun murders and accidents as it would armed robbery and gang violence and street crime. We’d still have the 300 million-plus guns we already have. America is going to have a shitload of guns and a shitload of gun murders for the foreseeable future.

If we can’t ban guns, and taxing them is insufficient, our only hope is to work at creating an America where people want to shoot each other less.

There are countries with gun ownership rates nearly as high as our own and much less gun violence. You could attribute that to culture (other Western nations have a less blood-soaked popular media and lack our proud history of fetishizing power and violence and huge fucking guns) or regulation (nearly every other wealthy and gun-heavy nation registers firearms and requires licensing). But another thing Finland and Canada — to name two nations with plenty of guns and not many gun murders — have in common is a strong welfare state.  There are also countries with many fewer guns than the United States, but with even higher homicide by firearm rates. They are all countries poorer and less equal than the United States. Social democracy might actually be a better deterrent to gun violence than gun control.

So let’s push for gun registration, and background checks for unlicensed firearms sales, and bans on huge video game-style mass death machines with ammunition designed to pierce armor and tanks, by all means. Let’s also look at taxing the hell out of guns, and using the money to buy ourselves a fairer nation, whose citizens are less terrified of slipping into intractable poverty if they lose a job, with universal access to mental and physical healthcare. I think we’re stuck with our guns, and even our gun culture. We can hopefully do something about the factors that lead Americans to  use their guns


Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene
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