A $20,000 AR-15-style rifle?
Because Democrats do not have the political strength or capital to do away with the Second Amendment via the Constitution's intentionally onerous amendment processes, they're constantly looking for clever little ways to make it impossible for Americans to own guns without actually banning them outright. The latest idea, from Rep. Donald Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, is to impose a 1,000% excise tax on AR-15-style rifles.
A decade ago, Chris Rock came out with a comedy sketch that envisioned a way to undercut the Second Amendment: bullet control. "I think all bullets should cost $5,000," he proclaimed to audience applause and laughter. "If a bullet costs $5,000," he added, "there'll be no more innocent bystanders." Here's the entire sketch (language warning):
The sketch is funny because of the way Rock takes the idea and runs with it. At a practical level, of course, it's ridiculous, because the Second Amendment loses meaning if people are allowed to have guns but are unable to use them, as would be the case if bullets ceased being affordable. In any event, it's doubtful if even that would deter criminals. During the Great Ammo Shortage of 2020, when 100 rounds of practice 9 mm ammo could run $150, the gangbangers in America's streets were still using them on each other and innocent bystanders with amazing profligacy.
Still, a handful of leftist states have managed to pass laws imposing background check requirements, not just on gun purchases, but on ammo purchases, too — and the purchaser must pay for the check. So far, none of these laws has reached the Supreme Court, so it's not yet clear whether they constitute an impermissible burden on people's right to bear arms.
Currently, Congress isn't eyeing ammo taxes, à la Chris Rock. But what happens when Congress tries to pass a 1,000% federal tax on AR-15-style rifles and magazines holding more than 10 rounds? For weapons that range in price from $500 to $2,000, that would bring the total cost to $5,000 to $20,000, an insane increase — yet that's what Rep. Donald Beyer hopes to have happen:
What it's intended to do is provide another creative pathway to actually make some sensible gun control happen. ... 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.
Image: The busy gun counter at a Sears Roebuck in Syracuse, New York, 1941. Public domain.
With the usual muddiness that characterizes all these proposed laws, the type of weapon the proposed law would cover is completely arbitrary. The price goes up if the weapon has "at least one military characteristic like a pistol grip or a forward grip." Those characteristics make the weapon a bit easier to hold, but they do nothing to make it more lethal than long "guns used for hunting and other recreational purposes" — but the latter weapons wouldn't be taxed.
The government, of course, wouldn't pay this tax for its military-style long guns, further cementing the fact that Democrats aren't opposed to guns. They're just opposed to you having guns.
Even the hard-left Business Insider isn't sanguine about the tax, noting that similar (although less extravagant) tax plans have failed, that Democrats are afraid it will feed into their tax-and-spend reputation, and that there's no proof the taxes would make any difference to violent crime. (And I'm betting they won't make a difference because criminals either don't feel constrained by laws or, like the barely employed Uvalde shooter, they're willing to dedicate staggering sums of money to their violent activities.)
Business Insider, with some residual hope, points to sin taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, and sodas, which are constitutional and are intended to discourage purchases. However, guns aren't a sin; they're an inherent right that the Constitution explicitly protects.
And that is why a huge tax intended solely to deter people from purchasing guns or to make it impossible for poorer people (especially minorities) to do so cannot possibly pass constitutional muster. What the government cannot do directly (seize guns), it also cannot do indirectly (make gun ownership prohibitively expensive).
Beyer's plan should be dead in the water, but it's a reminder that the Democrats will never stop looking at ways to undermine your constitutional rights. Now that they have political power, they don't want you to have free speech, publish news that contradicts their narrative, practice your faith and bring your values to the public square, or have the guns — the very existence of which ensures that the American government stays within its constitutional parameters.