Does raising the tax on firearms and ammunition make sense as a way of reducing gun violence in the United States? A lot of Democratic lawmakers seem to think so, based on the amount of legislation at both the federal and state levels to do just that. We're not sure they're right, which is why we have problems with nearly all the taxation bills on the table. But they do make some important points in principle.
So-called sin taxes have their downsides, but they can have benefits. Cigarette taxes, for example, have dramatically decreased smoking, reducing healthcare costs, and aided innocent victims of second-hand tobacco smoke. So wouldn't raising taxes on guns have a positive impact? Not necessarily.
The 2007 Small Arms Survey estimated that there are roughly 270 million civilian-owned guns in the U.S., so it's doubtful any reduction in firsthand sales would make much of a difference for years to come. Then there's the very reasonable question of whether, in a nation with a 2nd Amendment, it would be possible to ever reduce the gun supply enough to make a dent in firearm violence.
And guns cost a great deal more than cigarettes. A 5% tax on a $300 handgun amounts to an extra $15. A person bent on mass murder would hardly be discouraged by a low gun tax, and it would take many years for the higher retail costs to filter down to the criminal market in second-hand guns; moreover, a criminal who needs a gun as a primary tool of his trade would hardly be put off by a slightly higher price.