A trio of public health doctors from Harvard University argued Monday that the federal government should institute “a new, substantial national tax on all firearms and ammunition” to pay for programs that “reduce gun violence.”
They wrote that the practice of periodic government safety inspections of automobiles should be expanded to include firearms, “including documentation of home storage and safety measures.” And they compared the enforcement of speed limits on roadways to now-common proposals to restrict the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines that can hold dozens of rounds of ammunition.
Drs. Dariush Mozaffarian, David Hemenway and David Ludwig wrote that public health crusades against cigarette smoking, accidental poisonings and unsafe driving should be the new models for responding to gun violence like the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The commentary was published online Monday afternoon by JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.
“Between 1966 and 2010,” the doctors wrote, ”the prevalence of cigarette smoking among US adults was reduced by more than half from 43% to 19%” largely because of new taxes that paid for smoking prevention efforts.
“Existing federal and local taxes on firearms and ammunition are neither comprehensive nor representative of the true external costs of gun ownership,” they claimed. “A new, substantial national tax on all firearms and ammunition would provide stable revenue to meaningfully target gun violence prevention.”
The money, they wrote, would provide payments for victims of gun violence and their families, national awareness campaigns and “stronger enforcement of existing gun laws.”
New taxes, they caution, “would not necessarily be intended to reduce ownership.”
The doctors also praised successful campaigns to lower the concentration of poisonous chemicals in bottles and limit the number of pills pharmacists can dispense in a single bottle, comparing it to some proposals to restrict the availability of large-capacity ammunition magazines for firearms.
A comprehensive system of laws and regulations, they wrote, has been responsible for a decrease in motor-vehicle fatalities, including speed limits, seat belts, child seats, drunk-driving legislation, safety glass, collapsible steering columns, padded interiors, shoulder seat belts, air bags, and even the construction of divided highways.
“Together, these sensible, comprehensive policies reduced death rates per mile of driving by more than 90%,” they wrote, suggesting that a similar comprehensive approach could help reduce gun fatalities.
“Policy aimed exclusively at the individual perpetrator of gun violence would be no more effective than a motor vehicle injury prevention strategy focused only on the individual driver in a motor vehicle crash.”
Dr. David Ludwig, one of the three authors, has attracted national attention as an advocate of so-called “fat taxes” that state and local governments can levy as a behavioral tool to drive Americans toward foods the government considers healthier.
In the JAMA commentary, the three doctors included a chart that summarized all the lessons from tobacco, poisonings and auto safety that they said public health activists and government agencies could apply to gun violence. They include new age restrictions on “certain guns and ammunition” and changing “depictions of gun violence in advertising, television, movies, video games, and other media.”
That latter tactic has become a routine part of the global War on Tobacco, as old movies and photographs showing smokers are often airbrushed to remove cigarettes.