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1. I understand the impulse. But it isn't smart.
2. The NRA and its accomplices in the GOP have transformed an otherwise sensible gun control debate into a constitutional battlefield.
3. Anything to defend public safety is regarded by its ideologues as an attack on the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms.
4. The impulse after a historic massacre like Las Vegas is therefore to fight for gun control on the same terms.
5. The Second Amendment is an anachronism, some say. It was about a militias, not individuals.
6. It was about muskets, not semi-automatic rifles capable of being modified with bump stocks to make them fire more rapidly.
7. These are among the go-to talking points of Americans outraged by Congressional impotence in the face of our darkening culture of death.
8. They are right, and in another place and time, when our politics are less venomous, these might be fruitful topics of debate.
9. But we inhabit a bizarro world in which being right isn't the same as being smart.
10. The smart politics right now is to focus on policy, not freedoms, because the Republicans don't want to talk about policy.
11. Policy does not light a fire under their butts. Talking policy is what gets them in trouble.
12. By talking policy, we take the first step in any meaningful fight. We disarm the opposition.
13. Here's another way of looking at it.
14. In saying, as sincere progressives have said, that the real fight is over the Bill of Rights, they advance unwittingly an assumption:
15. something about gun control is so inherently unconstitutional that we need to change the constitution.
16. That, for most people, is a nonstarter.
17. Most people most of the time don't know much about politics, because they have better things to do.
18. But they do know that messing around with a foundational document is risky.
19. That alone, whether they care about guns or not, is enough to turn them against you even if you espouse gun policies they like.
20. Anyway, gun control is constitutional.
21. The question isn't whether, but to what degree. Banning handguns within city limits?
22. No, per the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller.
23. But background checks, and bans of certain weapons, ammunition and modifications? Though untested, these are surely constitutional.
24. They try to balance individual liberty with the government's responsibility to protect.
25. Of course, now is a time of radical imbalance, a time in which individual liberty supplants the government's responsibility to protect.
26. But now is also a time of opportunity, a time to show all sides that gun control advocates not only demand greater government action
27. but also **greater freedom** from the government's implementation of sensible gun control.
28. Remember what the founders believed -- that freedom was protection from the state of nature. To do that, we must constitute a gov't.
29. Seem in its proper light, gun control is freedom.
Hence, gun control is patriotic.
30. Not only should we focus on policy, but we should focus on **public health** policy.
31. And not only should we focus public health policy, but we should focus on a mechanism for protecting public health.
32. And we have one long proven to be effective.
33. If you can't constitutionally ban the sale of a thing but know the more people buy it, the less healthy we all are, what do you do?
34. Levy an excise tax.
35. In 2015, the Seattle City Council passed a law imposing a $25 surcharge on the purchase of firearms
36. as well as a tax of 2-to-5 cents per round of ammunition.
37. City officials said the measure would raise revenue, but the goal was deterrence.
38. Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess called it "gun-violence tax."
39. The NRA attacked the law and joined plaintiffs in an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
40. But in August, the high court ruled 8-1 that the ordinance did not violate a state law banning cities from regulating firearms.
41. The majority sided with Seattle in saying the ordinance was not gun control, but a tax.
42. The decision bodes well for the future of gun control, as a government's authority to tax is virtually unlimited,
43. thus removing the fight from a constitutional context and putting it squarely in the realm of public health policy.
44. This is not to say an excise tax is politically feasible, but that's not the point.
45. The point is finding a constitutional & practical way of addressing a health crisis that protects liberty as well as public safety.
46. Given that excise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and gasoline have long been accepted, taxing guns might prove effective, too.
47. To be sure, the idea of taxing anything creates another kind of headache, but taxes are not the NRA's forte,
48. and any day in which the NRA must talk about something other than the Second Amendment is a good day.
49. And yes, a 5-cent tax per round of ammunition isn't going to deter much, but NYC didn't levy $4.35 on a pack of smokes on day one.
50. And yes, an excise tax would not have stopped Stephen Paddock who appears to have been independently wealthy.
51. But not being able to stop a mass murderer is scarcely the point of policy.
52. The point is to mitigate as much as possible the risk of injury and death even as we strive to live in an open and free society.
53. An excise tax alone probably won't achieve that goal, but along with other measures enacted on the state and local level,
54. and eventually embraced by the US Congress, perhaps it will.
55. Many thanks for reading. Please argue and share. This isn't over. usnews.com/opinion/thomas…
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