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‘Tax the daylights’ out of some ammunition

Bill Roberts

Had you been caught, said the Border Patrol officer, your behavior would have been treated as an armed invasion of the Republic of Mexico. He was addressing me and some friends after finding guns in our trunk as we re-entered the U.S. from Mexicali. What followed was a stern lecture, but nothing more. We had broken no U.S. or California law – at least not that the Border Patrol knew.

In truth, my friends and I had been drinking beer – I was 16 or 17 – and shooting at the empty bottles on a beach by the Sea of Cortez. One of the guns we were using was fully automatic – in other words, a machine gun. (The Border Patrol failed to catch that because the visible parts that might give it away had been removed.)

I thought about that while attending an event at the Durango Public Library last month. It was an excellent presentation put on by Colorado Ceasefire and Indivisible Durango that focused on preventing gun violence, particularly suicide and accidental shootings. (Suicides outnumber murders roughly four-to-one.) There were also free gun locks available courtesy of San Juan Basin Public Health.

I had feared that it would be more of our never-ending national “debate” about guns. One side seemingly knows little about guns and apparently thinks legislation can be crafted to put the toothpaste back in the tube. The other side combines a firearms fetish with paranoia and fantasies akin to John Wayne movies. Neither position is helpful.

I have been a gun owner for 60 years. I was once a guest at the home of Eugene Stoner, the designer of the AR-15. (AR stands for ArmaLite not “assault rifle.”) I also once had a brief chat with Bill Ruger of Sturm, Ruger firearms.

I do not want to overstate either encounter. I met Stoner as a teenager and Ruger while tending bar. But I did ask Ruger why his company was reconfiguring its popular Mini-14 rifle to fire the cartridge used in the Russian AK-47.

He said it was because the Chinese had dumped about a gazillion rounds of that cartridge on the world market. In other words, the decision to add to his product line was driven by the availability of ammunition.

Perhaps an alternative to gun control could be ammunition control. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed that the U.S. has something like a 200-year supply of guns, but only a couple of years worth of ammunition. (Chris Rock has a great routine on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZrFVtmRXrw.)

Moreover, most gun crimes involve only a few types of ammunition – and not the kind hunters use. So why not make that ammo more costly? No need to ban anything, just tax the daylights out of a few varieties of ammunition.

I have no idea if that is doable. But banning guns will not work. There are more guns than people in this country and no law will change that.

Some things might help. There are a half-dozen legislative proposals that Colorado Ceasefire backs that could do some good around the edges. (See: https://coloradoceasefire.org.)

What no legislation can address is that firearms are widely and well-understood. Back to Mexico: My friend – a high-school student equipped with nothing but the tools in his father’s garage and a library card –converted a perfectly legal rifle into a functioning machine gun.

That was more than 50 years ago. What might he have done with a 3-D printer?

I think Colorado Ceasefire and Indivisible Durango might have it right. The answer may have to be education.

From 1990 to 2017, Bill Roberts was Opinion editor at The Durango Herald.