The decrease in deaths related to smoking and tobacco use is one of the great public health achievements in California history. With smoking rates declining more than 50% since the 1980s, our policies have been credited with saving 1 million lives and $134 billion in health care costs. A key pillar to this success is an excise tax on the tobacco industry, with revenues used to fund a variety of smoking prevention and cessation programs.
The idea is simple but powerful: When an industry creates a product that harms society, redirect some of the profits from the sale of that harmful product to programs that will help alleviate the impact.
As smoking deaths decline, gun deaths are on the rise in California, and it’s time to borrow from the success of the anti-smoking movement. A bill passed by a supermajority of the California Legislature, AB 28, would do exactly that — place a modest, 11% excise tax on the firearm industry, not consumers, that would generate $160 million annually to fund the expansion of effective gun violence prevention programs. Now it’s on its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
Believe it or not, this is an idea that the gun industry itself has applauded when it comes to protecting wildlife and supporting hunting interests. Since the early 1900s, the federal government has placed an 11% tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition in order to fund wildlife conservation efforts and hunter development. A statement from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group, called the legislators behind the federal tax “heroes of the most successful conservation model in the world.”
If even the gun industry can get behind a modest tax on guns and ammo to protect wildlife, then there is no valid argument against doing the same thing to protect human life.
I’m a trauma surgeon. I see firsthand what gun violence does to the body. Over and over again, I witness the destruction of guns tearing the bodies of people apart and tearing the fabric of our communities apart. I also see the benefits of programs like the ones that would be funded by AB 28. These programs are effective and work in conjunction with hospitals to offer hospital-based, trauma-informed care. Gun violence prevention efforts are working in the state, and it is critical that we increase funding.
We stand on the brink of a historic moment in the struggle against gun violence, where California has been a national leader for the last two decades. As one of the most prominent voices for gun safety in this country, Gov. Newsom needs to put people over corporate profits. We can’t keep living in a nation where gun violence is the No. 1 cause of death for our children.
This is a powerful idea whose time has come. Gov. Newsom, please sign this historic bill. Those of us on the front lines are counting on you.
Dr. Timothy Browder is the head of trauma surgery at Highland Hospital in Oakland.
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