Yesterday's proposal by Tim Burgess to tax gun and bullet sales, and to impose a fine on unreported gun thefts, is a seemingly benign and uncontroversial pre-election attempt to appear tough on crime, but it's an example of the kind of press-conference policy that does nothing to address the root causes of the growing epidemic of gun violence on Seattle streets. Coming from Burgess, who in the past four years has cut proposed funding for public safety programs like LEAD, the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (pg. 9), and Career Bridge—all community programs that work toward preventing violence community-wide—it's particularly frustrating that a tax on bullets would be his plan. By the time an at-risk youth points a stolen gun out the window of a moving car, the price of individual bullets is the last thing on his mind.
In a guest editorial in The Stranger yesterday morning, Burgess frames the gun violence problem primarily by describing medical care for victims as an expensive drain on revenue, saying, “Every year, taxpayers in Seattle pay for millions of dollars of emergency medical care for people who have been shot. It’s time for the gun industry to chip in to help defray these costs.” With all due respect, the toll of gun violence is measured in fear, death and mayhem in our homes and on our streets. It pulls our communities and families apart, doing incalculable damage. The cost of emergency room treatment is a tiny fraction of the real costs borne by our entire community.
We need to acknowledge the fact that gunshots are up 20 percent in Seattle in both of the last two years, and that drive-by shootings and gang warfare aren’t likely to be impacted by a sales tax on guns and bullets. Slapping feel-good regulations on the table a week before ballots drop is a telling indication of how our current leaders are framing the problem. They see it as a public relations issue.
People are dying on the streets of Seattle and we need action. Real violence prevention takes a concerted effort on the part of city leaders to address the underlying causes. This gun and bullet tax, like the civility laws that Burgess tried to pass in 2010, are superficial fixes meant to solve the problem of public appearances.
If the Council instead had fully expanded the Seattle Youth Violence Initiative to include 18-21 year-olds, funded the shot locator technology proposed in 2012 rather than waiting until 2015, funded Career Bridge in 2014, and fully funded LEAD in 2014, maybe we'd be seeing different outcomes now instead of hearing bullets fly. Ultimately, only a broad package of solutions can meaningfully bring down the true cost of gun violence.