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Joe Henderson: Chris King’s interesting idea for ‘bullet tax’

The proposal floated by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King to tack an extra 6 percent tax on ammunition and gun sales in Florida has a lot of merit – which means it has little or no chance of becoming law.

(We’ll pause here momentarily to allow the National Rifle Association and its supporters to regain their composure).

The idea, which King unveiled last week in St. Petersburg, sounds similar to the way states approach cigarette sales.

If you can’t stop ‘em, the state can at least impose what King called a “safety fee” to pay for gun usage programs and so on, including all medical costs for victims of mass shootings.

He also would divert the current sales tax revenue on weapons and ammunition to what he calls “The Every Kid Fund For Gun Violence Prevention.”

“ … every child deserves to grow up in a state free from the scourge of gun violence, whether it’s everyday gun violence or mass shootings,” he said in a statement.

Not buying it?

Well, look at what has happened with Florida’s approach to tobacco.

According to tobaccofreekids.org, Florida generated $1.1 billion from cigarette taxes in fiscal year 2016. In the same year, Florida’s youth smoking rate was the lowest in the nation at 3 percent in 2015 – a 71 percent decrease in the first 10 years since voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of Tobacco Free Florida.

People can still smoke if they’re willing to pay for it, but smoking-related health care costs have been reduced by more than $3 billion.

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Apply that logic to ammunition sales, and what would we have?

Law-abiding citizens could still buy ammo and guns, and isn’t that what defenders of the Second Amendment are always most concerned?

But just as smoking (or not) is a choice, so is gun ownership (or not) and arguments could be presented that might make someone question if buying a weapon is really the best way to ensure personal safety.

Yes, the NRA offers gun-safety programs — and that’s good.

But that comes with the assumption that a person has already decided they want a gun. And I think King’s basic argument is built on the premise that maybe we have too many of those floating around already.

While we’re on the subject, the Giffords Law Center noted that Florida is kind of loose when it comes to ammo sales.

There is no minimum age to buy or possess ammunition, impose a minimum age or license requirement for the purchase or possession of ammunition.

Sellers don’t have to keep records of who buys their product, and there are no safe storage requirements or restrictions on where they can be sold.

It should be noted that King has vowed to take no money from the NRA in his campaign, although I doubt that will a problem since I can’t imagine single penny from that organization would be earmarked for him anyway.

King has vowed to push for such things as universal background checks on all gun sales, including private ones, and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. He also has advocated Medicaid expansion to make more mental health services available.

Good ideas, both.

But the tax idea earned the headline.

The First Amendment talks about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — and that often conflicts with the Second Amendment’s clear intent that people have the right to own guns.

King’s idea might be a way to bridge that gap until the time when people realize that a good guy with a gun is not the only way to stop a bad guy.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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