The shooting erupts. People, often children, die in horrifying numbers. We offer thoughts and prayers, and move on, until the next mass shooting momentarily attracts our attention, and we repeat the entire exercise all over again. When it comes to guns these days, that’s the reality that’s baked in to our daily experience in 21st century America.
So first things first. Let’s quit pretending that gun control legislation is going to be the solution to the problem. Meaningful gun control is unlikely to happen because of the political power of the National Rifle Association and because the Supreme Court has upheld an individual’s right to own guns.
Besides, America is already so awash with guns, that it’s unclear whether controlling the sale of things like assault rifles would have any appreciable impact on our mass shooting phenomenon, at least in the short run. As for confiscation of legally-owned firearms, that isn’t going to happen in America, nor should it.
This is not to suggest, however, that America has no alternative but to suffer an endless series of mass shootings, leaving thousands of victims and their families behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
While America has a long history of gun ownership, it also has a long history of holding manufacturers accountable for the inherent dangers of the products they sell. The Supreme Court says the constitution protects individual gun ownership, but the constitution gives no protection, nor should it, to a gun manufacturer or seller who profits from the sale of weapons, ammunition, and related accessories that are intentionally advertised for their capacity to maximize mayhem.
Other industries have been held accountable when they’ve put the public at risk. We tell power plants they can’t spew toxic chemicals into the air, because some people will be sickened by them, and we fine them if they don’t comply. We’ve fined auto manufacturers billions of dollars, and regularly have them initiate costly recalls when their products prove unsafe. We sued the cigarette manufacturers for tens of billions of dollars to compensate states for the medical costs their products inflicted on society.
It’s time we do the same thing to those who make millions in profits off the carnage in our streets and our schools. We need to change the incentives in the gun industry, by making those who cash in from the bloodshed pay for the costs they inflict on society, just as we do in other industries. Rather than another push for gun control measures that ends up stalled out in Congress, Americans who are fed up should push for the creation of an American Gun Victims Compensation Fund, paid for by a windfall profits tax or a similar assessment on the manufacturers of the guns, high-powered ammo, and large capacity clips, that are routinely used in mass shootings.
By focusing on compensation for victims, the NRA and its allies in Congress can’t continuously wrap themselves in the flag and the constitution whenever the latest massacre prompts a renewed push for gun control measures. There is no constitutional right to profit off the death, injury, and suffering of others. Focusing on compensation, rather than gun control, would fundamentally alter the debate.
Such a tax should be levied directly on the profits of those manufacturers who make the exact weapons that are used in mass murder and the proceeds should be used to pay for the medical costs, pain and suffering, lost income, and compensation to family members of victims as well.
That’s not only the right thing to do for victims, it would likely prompt these companies to stop selling the types of guns, ammunition and accessories, that have become the preferred tools of killers. It could very well prompt the manufacturers to take steps on their own to ensure that these weapons aren’t made accessible to dangerous individuals. They could do that if they truly wanted to address the problem, rather than profit from it.
We don’t have to ban these weapons to make meaningful progress on this issue. But we do need to hold the merchants of death accountable, by making the destruction wrought by the products they sell a lot more expensive. The gun industry makes millions off the bloodletting. It’s time it starts costing them, instead.