The US has experienced a string of mass shootings in the past three weeks in Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, that have left scores of adults and children dead.
The recent violence is prompting one House Democrat to draft a measure aimed at severely restricting access to the AR-15-style weapons used by different gunmen in the carnage. Rep. Donald Beyer of Virginia, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means panel, wants to impose a 1,000% excise tax on assault weapons.
“What it’s intended to do is provide another creative pathway to actually make some sensible gun control happen,” Beyer told Insider. “We think that a 1,000% fee on assault weapons is just the kind of restrictive measure that creates enough fiscal impact to qualify for reconciliation.”
New AR-15-style guns range from $500 to over $2,000 depending on location, NBC News reported. That means a 1,000% tax on the weapon would add $5,000 to $20,000 to their final sales price — and would probably keep it out of reach from many younger Americans.
Some details of the bill still aren’t finalized, such as when the tax would kick in and what to do with any revenue raised. It’s also unclear how much money it would generate. One out of every five weapons purchased in the US in AR-15 style rifle, per the National Shooting Sports Foundation in a 2014 court brief. Gun sales have surged since then and reached their second-highest level recorded last year.
Given the ongoing and divisive debate over gun control in the US, it’s helpful to understand the breakdown of some of the most important terms that frequently come up after mass shootings.
Some of these terms might appear inconsequential, but they relate strongly to discussions on what type of guns and firearm accessories should be regulated more strictly or even banned. And some in the pro-Second Amendment camp have been known to mock people calling for new gun laws when they use incorrect terminology in reference to firearms.
In the renewed discussion surrounding gun control following high-profile mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Laguna Woods, California, and Uvalde, Texas, familiar disagreements are arising over terminology surrounding firearms.
Here’s a summary of some of the more common and contentious terms linked to guns and the broader discourse surrounding them in the US.
Law enforcement agencies and the US military wouldn’t be subject to the tax, Beyer said. The legislation would also apply only to future assault weapon sales — and not to the 20 million AR-15-style rifles already estimated to be in circulation across the US. Other guns used for hunting and other recreational purposes would also be exempt.
Bullets wouldn’t be subject to the new tax. But high-capacity magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition would be aggressively taxed at that level.
Beyer’s definition of an assault weapon closely mirrors a measure that Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island is pushing. That bill would ban weapons with at least one military characteristic like a pistol grip or a forward grip.
House Democrats are rallying around their own expansive gun-control package separate from ongoing Senate negotiations on a narrower bill centered on mental health, red flag laws, and a modest expansion of background checks. The House bill is expected to fall flat in the upper chamber due to stiff GOP resistance.
That outcome prompted Beyer to eye reconciliation, the legislative tactic allowing proposed laws to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold known as the filibuster and pass with a simple majority. Democrats employed the maneuver in 2021 to approve both the stimulus law and the House-approved Build Back Better bill over united GOP resistance.
One expert says his measure likely qualifies for inclusion in a smaller spending bill containing pieces of President Joe Biden’s climate and tax agenda. Democrats hope to revive it by summer’s end.
“Taxes get more deference in budget reconciliation than other policies from a parliamentarian point of view,” Zach Moller, director of the economic program at the center-left Third Way think tank, told Insider.
“So a pure excise tax that isn’t set so high as to end all sales should pass the Byrd rule,” Moller said, referring the rule governing what meets the requirements to be included in a filibuster-proof bill.
The federal government already imposes a 10% tax on the importation and sale of handguns, per the Tax Policy Center. The tax rate is 11% for other guns and ammunition.
Beyer said he was open to negotiating the 1,000% tax rate. “There’s nothing magical about that thousand percent number. It’s severe enough to actually inhibit and restrict sales. But also successful enough that it’s not seen as an absolute ban.”
There are instances stretching back decades of Democrats seeking massive tax increases on guns and ammo to make them unaffordable. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said in 1993 that he wanted to tax handgun ammunition “out of existence” to curb crime, The New York Times reported.
Then in 2020, a pair of Democrats introduced similar measures to raise taxes on weapons to prevent gun violence, though not at the scale Beyer is seeking. Both Rep. Hank Johnson and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts put forward plans to triple the tax on handguns to 30%, as well as nearly quintuple the tax rate on shells and cartridges to 50%.
Those went nowhere in Congress — and the Beyer plan faces steep hurdles as well. Democrats will likely be wary of Republicans further casting them as tax-and-spend liberals in an election year where the party faces major headwinds to keep control of Congress. It may also violate Biden’s pledge to not increase taxes on people earning under $400,000.
Little research exists on whether hiking taxes on military-style assault weapons could help prevent violent crime. Generally, that path has been used by states and cities to raise money for public safety initiatives, not prevent gun violence.
Excise taxes exist for alcohol, cigarettes, and soda in some localities meant to discourage people from purchasing them. But a major tax on AR-15 style rifles hasn’t been implemented at the state or local level.
“We don’t have a lot of information on what would happen if gun taxes are raised,” Robert McClelland, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told Insider. “But a gun tax at 1,000%, I can’t see how it would not dissuade some people from purchasing a taxed firearm.”
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