Today in Violence Prevention: The Chicago Violence Tax and Inner-City Farming

Toni Preckwinkle floats a tax on guns and ammunition, not the first that’s been proposed in Illinois, and an NRA lobbyist harshes it; and Alex Kotlowitz takes a look at the Growing Home urban garden.

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* The Sun-Times reports that Toni Preckwinkle is interested in a Cook County “violence tax” on guns and/or ammunition, something that’s been floated at the city and state level in recent years with no traction. The gun lobby’s first response suggests how it will be received:

“It is another way to enact a Jim Crow law and keep people from exercising their constitutional right, [NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde] said.

“All you’re doing is jacking up the price of guns and ammunition — for someone who can least afford it,” he said. “The problem with something like this is that you’re hurting people who don’t have the ability to get out of Cook County. So if you have someone in Englewood, they have to venture out to DuPage County, to Will County? I don’t think so.”

It’s a very Chicago way of addressing the problem, by which I mean not a tax-intensive municipality but a University of Chicago School, economic-nudge approach. Gary Becker (who is apparently taxed on paragraph breaks) suggested something similar, if much more intense, not long ago:

[S]everal steps can be taken to have much more effective gun control. The first would be to impose a high tax on legal gun transactions, which would greatly raise the price of guns purchased legally. Like the tax on gasoline, cigarettes, and some other goods, a gun tax should be several hundred percent of the untaxed price to discourage purchases of guns by those with less strong demands. Individuals who strongly want guns for legitimate purposes might still prefer to get them legally, if they can, since they would then avoid the various punishments and other risks of buying guns illegally. For this reason, gun control laws should allow persons with legitimate needs for guns to buy them legally at the very high prices caused by the high gun tax.

This is problematic for a couple reasons. First, if it’s not implemented nationwide, it won’t work. Guns were obviously banned outright in Chicago for decades, but people had no problem getting them from the suburbs, or from out of state. The city was just too small a geographic area for a ban to have much effectiveness; the ban is believed to have caused a substantial premium on the illegal market within the city, but not high enough to curtail the problem. The other is a problem specifically with a gun tax, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan realized a couple decades ago—it was hopeless, Senator Moynihan pointed out: even if the sale of new guns was totally forbidden, there were already enough guns in homes and private hands to last the country for 200 years"—which is why he favored an ammunition tax.

A “violence tax” probably isn’t the best way to think of it, since anything like a feasible tax is unlikely to keep bullets and guns out of buyers’ hands, licit or not. It’s more like a luxury tax, a revenue stream from a non-necessity. When a bill like it was in the state legislature, the expected revenues were modest: “Republicans also opposed House Bill 5167, which would place a 2 percent surtax on ammunition sales in the Illinois. Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said the tax would raise $800,000 to $1.2 million, which would go to hospitals that treat gunshot victims. Cassidy said the tax would amount to one penny a bullet.” Nonetheless, if Cassidy’s ballpark figures are right, it does give you a sense of how many bullets are sold in the state.

* In Mother Jones, Alex Kotlowitz profiles Growing Home, a Chicago urban farm. This was interesting:

There’s been a growing body of research that suggests that urban farming and greening not only strengthen community bonds but also reduce violence. In 2000, Philadelphia had 54,000 vacant lots, and so the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reclaimed 4,400 of them, mowing lands, providing upkeep, planting trees and gardens, and erecting three-foot-high fences that served no purpose other than as a kind of statement that this land now belonged to someone. The greening of these parcels (just 8 percent of the vacant land in the city) had an unexpected effect: Over the course of 10 years, it reduced shootings in the areas surrounding these renewed lots.

We tend to think of “broken windows” in a punitive sense—cracking down on minor violations, combating the minor destructions of civic life. This goes a step farther, reframing it as repaired windows.

 

Photograph: Richard Elzey (CC by 2.0)

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