Wednesday, August 11, 2010

California to Send Tax Revenue to Neighboring States, Create Black Market

Beginning in February 2011, gun shops and sporting goods stores in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon are likely to see a boom in sales of handgun ammunition as California’s draconian AB 962 goes into effect. The law bans Internet ammo sales to Californians and, more importantly, requires merchants within California to track consumers who purchase handgun ammunition, maintaining fingerprints for each.

The law infringes upon the federal government’s Constitutional primacy regulating interstate commerce, making the sale of a legal good across state lines a crime. On that basis, it’s likely to be overturned eventually. In the meantime, though, the law will encourage many gun owners to buy ammunition in neighboring states. Weekend trips to Reno, Vegas, and other nearby towns will now include bulk ammunition purchases as visiting Californians stock up there to avoid intrusive government monitoring here. And the sales tax revenue that would have been collected by California cities will go to our neighbors instead.

There will still be ammunition sales in California, of course. Folks who keep firearms strictly for home protection and rarely actually shoot their guns will probably buy the odd box in-state. But serious shooters are already planning to stock up on ammo from out-of-state. And criminals, whom the law presumably was intended to deny easy access to ammunition, will stop buying from legitimate retailers (where sales tax is collected) and buy instead from street peddlers trafficking in stolen or illegally imported ammunition.

We’ve seen this tragic comedy before. Governments impose tougher restrictions on guns and ammo claiming they’ll prevent gun violence, but actually just making life harder on law abiding citizens. Unable to buy guns from legit stores, criminals buy them instead out of the trunks of cars or under tables in bars, completely off the books. Now handgun ammunition will also trade hands underground, creating yet another racket for gangs to fight and kill over.

This gets at the actual root cause of violent crime – not the availability of guns or ammunition, or even poverty, but the creation of incentives to commit crime. In our efforts to control the behavior of others, society has imposed various restrictions that have had perverse consequences. Alcohol prohibition in the 1920s was supposed to promote social order and public welfare. Instead, it created the mob and murderous black marketers like Al Capone. For generations since, society has prohibited recreational drug use and prostitution, and these two underground activities continue to fuel gang violence to this day. In poor Mexico, drug cultivators and smugglers serving the American black market now threaten the very existence of the Mexican state, murdering police officers, judges, politicians and rival gang members in ever more violent massacres. Across Asia and Eastern Europe, young girls are sold into slavery or are kidnapped by black market traffickers equally ruthless in their use of violence.

By now, it really ought to be clear that the best way to interrupt this cycle of violent crime is not to give black marketers yet another lucrative incentive to kill, but rather to stop trying to control other people in the first place.