Thoughts on Guns and Taxes

In its support for the individual’s right to own weapons — and therefore, in its opposition to gun control proposals being made nationwide — the National Rifle Association takes what many view as extreme or radical positions. On closer examination, however, its approach does not strike me as unreasonable, but rather as a rational response to a serious threat against liberty.

I am neither a member of the NRA nor a gun owner, yet I am quite sympathetic to its cause. As I understand it, the NRA is terribly concerned by what might be termed a “foot-in-the-door” attack on the U.S. Constitution. Briefly put, it is concerned that if our constitutional right to bear arms is curtailed-by legislative limits on the ownership of handguns, manufacture of armor-piercing bullets, or purchase of assault rifles, for example — then the fundamental constitutional right itself is in danger. In the end, no private citizen will be allowed to possess a weapon of any kind.

The NRA’s concern is well-founded. This country’s 76-year experience with a tax on personal income offers a telling case in point.

In 1893, the U.S. Congress first legislated a modest income tax — 2%, applicable only to a very small number of very wealthy Americans. Political posturing on behalf of the tax was intense; nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the Constitution’s requirement that all taxes be imposed in direct proportion to state population. This ruling settled the matter of taxing incomes until 1909 when President Taft began looking for new revenue sources. Proposals for a constitutional amendment to permit income taxation were thus born.

The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed in 1913. Arguments based on the notion of equity carried the day. The newly authorized income tax would allow for the reduction of tariffs on imported goods, which were viewed to be regressive. The income tax would also affect only the wealthiest Americans. Ample deductions were permitted, and the value of the personal exemption for a family of four, in 1987 dollars, was $45,977. Only 2% of the population paid any income tax at all; the highest marginal rate in 1913 was 7%.

The limited reach of the income tax was soon extended, however. A federal inheritance tax was established in 1916. The maximum marginal rate on income taxation increased from 15% in 1916 to 77% by 1918 — an increase of over 400% in just two years! What had appeared to be a reasonable tax in 1913 had turned into a nightmarish tool of confiscation.

As personal incomes rose, everyone’s tax burden grew. State and local governments enacted income taxes, and the federal government tapped incomes for a Social Security tax, adding to the already-heavy tax burden Americans had to bear. Even after the 1986 tax reform, the National Tax Foundation estimates that the average American works over five months a year just to pay his or her taxes.

What lesson for gun owners can be learned from this history of income taxation? Today, public sentiment appears to favor a ban on certain types of weapons, considering some form of limited ban to be “reasonable.” Similar sympathies no doubt surrounded proposals for the taxation of income in 1913. It is likely, however, that gun control partisans see limited bans as only a first step … those who sought to maximize government revenues viewed the income tax in much the same way.

Our very negative experience with the taxation of income suggests that defenders of the right to bear arms have a legitimate reason for concern.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees U.S. citizens the right to keep and bear arms. The significance of this right, however, is not merely in the fact that it appears in the Constitution: The right to keep and bear arms is essential to the preservation of liberty. Mikhail Gorbachev understood this lesson when he ordered the Lithuanians to disarm; the Chinese students on Tiananmen Square learned it the hard way. So when. the contemporary voices of “reason” take aim at assault rifles or some other “weapon of the day,” please do not view the NRA and its members as spokespersons for irrationality. They are expressing a concern that is historically justified and confirmed by the brutality of weapons-deprived seekers of freedom. NRA members pay income taxes just like you and I do-and they watch the nightly news, too.

Source: John J. Bethune, Township Times

Author: Greg Raven

Trained with Chuck Taylor. What else is there to know?