On September 7, the California Legislature passed AB-28. The bill would place an 11 percent excise tax on the sales price of all firearms, firearm precursor parts, and ammunition. As of press time, the legislation remains on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
As with the rest of the not-so-Golden State’s ever-increasing maze of gun laws, the legislation is designed to discourage the exercise of the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Understanding that they can’t bring such an unconstitutional justification into a courtroom, the tax’s backers have carefully crafted their messaging to emphasize that the tax will raise revenue for a “gun violence” fund. Of course, this isn’t to say that securing another pile of loot for California’s anti-gun patronage operation at the expense of the one-party state’s political opponents isn’t a supplementary benefit for gun controllers.
However, it appears not all members of the anti-gun messaging apparatus received the official briefing memo. The Washington Post Editorial Board noticed exactly what the California Legislature was up to with AB-28 and vigorously applauded them for it.
In a September 12 editorial titled “California gets smart with a new tax on guns and bullets,” the Post acknowledged the unconstitutional purpose of the bill. The editorial board noted, “The main goal, though, is to save lives, however minimally, by making it more expensive to shoot someone in the first place.” Aside from the fact that “shoot[ing] someone” in lawful self-defense is Second Amendment-protected conduct, the tax makes it “more expensive to shoot” at all.
The paper even likened the legislation to previous attempts to place prohibitive taxes on ammunition and a well-known stand-up routine.
The California legislation is a lineal descendant of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s (D-N.Y.) 1993 proposal for a 50 percent federal excise tax on handgun bullets. The idea went nowhere in Congress, despite a common-sensical appeal that comedian Chris Rock fashioned into a bit about “bullet control” via a $5,000-a-shot fee.
Making further clear that the tax is intended to discourage Second Amendment-protected conduct, the paper likened the levy to “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco. Attempting to appear erudite, the board went on to explain that such taxes are “what economists call ‘Pigouvian taxation,’ so named for Arthur C. Pigou, a British economist who elaborated the concept of discouraging socially costly individual choices.”
Put aside the fact that responsible law-abiding gun owners exercising their Second Amendment rights is not “socially costly.” Is it the Washington Post’s position that Constitutional rights may be taxed if some number of politicians disfavor the right or those exercising it?
Would the editors accept a poll tax imposed by politicians who find it “socially costly” that the poor vote? In October 2022, Gallup reported that only 34 percent of Americans trust “the mass media to report the news ‘fully, accurately and fairly.’” A 2023 report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation found, “Fifty percent of Americans feel most national news organizations intend to mislead, misinform or persuade the public.” Some might view that as “socially costly.” Could a Pigouvian tax be the answer?
Of course not.
Taxes can’t be intended to discourage Americans from exercising their Constitutional rights. The so-called journalists at the Post should know this, considering some of the controlling case law concerned a newspaper.
The 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Com'r of Revenue addressed a discriminatory use tax on paper and ink consumed in publication. The Court determined that the tax was an unconstitutional attack on First Amendment rights. The Court explained that “A power to tax differentially, as opposed to a power to tax generally, gives a government a powerful weapon against the taxpayer selected.” Such a tax targeted at gun owners, would be a similarly suspect attack on Second Amendment rights.
Kudos to the Washington Post for seeing right through the California legislature’s lame messaging on their proposed Second Amendment tax. Shame on the paper for cheering taxing a Constitutional right.