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Beware the gun tax

David Addington at the Heritage Foundation reports on a little something-something slipped into the rough beast of gun control laws slouching toward the Senate to be born, courtesy of majority leader Harry Reid:

Title I of the Reid gun control bill purports to “fix gun checks.” The proposed “fix” in section 122 of S. 649 is to take away an individual’s right to sell or give away a firearm to another individual unless, in most cases, the individual (1) uses a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer to make the transfer of the firearm and (2) pays a fee to that importer, dealer, or manufacturer to make the transfer.

The individual transferring the firearm is not actually receiving a service; the federal government is receiving the service. The service the government gets is a background check on the intended recipient of the firearm, because the law requires the importer, dealer, or manufacturer to run the recipient through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Forcing the individual to pay for the government-mandated service, which is in fact a service to the government, is in essence a federal tax on the individual. And the amount the individual pays as a fee is not limited by the legislation; section 122(a)(4) of the Reid bill enacts a new section 922(t)(4)(B)(i) of title 18 of the U.S. Code to grant to Attorney General Eric Holder the power to set the maximum fee by regulation.

That sounds great!  I was just thinking that what this country really needs is Eric Holder controlling more of our lives.

Besides the obvious ramifications for gun control, this is a prime example of all the little back doors installed in our liberty by Big Government.  Countless taxes are disguised as “fees” and “penalties.”  When ObamaCare reached the Supreme Court, we learned just how quickly the political class was willing to admit they’re all taxes, no matter what rhetorical sleight-of-hand is used to slip them past voters.  Remember when President Obama literally laughed out loud at the idea his health-care plan would impose taxes on the middle class?  On Day One of that bizarre Supreme Court hearing, he stopped laughing.

No doubt Reid, Holder, and their allies would respond to Addington’s criticism by insisting that it’s the American people receiving this vital universal background check “service,” not the federal bureaucracy.  The government’s interests are always camouflaged as popular interest, with bureaucrats serving as the avatars of popular will.

Once Harry Reid’s background check tax is in place, it could easily become a clamp for choking off gun rights, by simply cranking the fee up high enough.  At some point, this would prompt dramatically increased interest in black-market gun transfers, which would tend to defeat the entire purpose of universal background checks – which won’t be much of an impediment to criminals anyway, although supporters of the idea hope it will dissuade the “straw purchasers” who buy weapons legally and funnel them to the underworld.

Placing a stiff “fee” on a background check system for even the most casual transfer of firearms would provide a monetary incentive for people to avoid using the system, measured against the risk of getting arrested for violating the law.  If the background check system is truly a universal public interest, shouldn’t it be financed out of general taxation and provided “free” to those who need it, just like every other socialized necessity?  We hear a lot about how public subsidies are necessary to guarantee “access” to our “rights.”  For example, it has become received wisdom on the Left that if people are obliged to pay for their own birth control, they are being denied “access” to it.  Why shouldn’t that logic apply to gun rights, which really are explicitly spelled out in the Bill of Rights?  If we’re not going to subsidize legal gun purchases under this principle of “access,” we should at least provide those universal background checks for “free.”

It’s hard to resolve a tax on the purchase or transfer of all firearms with the concept of a “right to keep and bear arms that shall not be infringed.”  Taxing the exercise of a right is a clear infringement upon it, as any discussion of poll taxes would swiftly make clear.  In fact, Eric Holder’s Justice Department has a habit of arguing that even minor incidental expenses incurred in the course of obtaining voter identification, such as the cost of traveling to an election office to pick up a free ID card, are unacceptable infringements upon voting rights.  Attorney General Holder himself has not been shy about denouncing these expenses as a racist conspiracy to suppress the minority vote.  Wouldn’t Harry Reid’s gun tax be a comparable conspiracy to suppress the exercise of Second Amendment rights by law-abiding minority gun buyers?

Or should we stop asking such impertinent questions, and accept the judgment of politicians and government officials about just how alienable our inalienable rights must become, on a case-by-case basis?

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