As we celebrate America’s independence, let’s pause and consider an issue that touches on one of our nation’s most contentious debates.
Who is the biggest arms buyer in the United States?
It’s not the National Rifle Association. Or hunters. Or homeowners seeking protection from burglars. Or criminals. Or the “Proud Boys” and the “Oath Keepers”. Or even those camouflage-clad so-called “suburban commandos” who want to walk around malls with an AR-15 draped over their shoulders.
Yes, dear taxpayers, you are the biggest gun buyers in America right now.
This simple fact sparked one of the most innovative plans to promote gun safety that began right here in New Jersey. Here’s how it works:
Police departments and other law enforcement agencies across America, large and small, spend billions of taxpayer dollars on firearms every year. Estimates vary, in part because our country is home to many agencies that use firearms.
These agencies issue public tenders to firearms manufacturers and dealers when they need new weapons and ammunition. And, like any other contractor looking for a public market to repave a road or install a new roof on City Hall, gunsmiths and dealers compete to provide the best deal at the lowest price.
An estimate by the Brady Foundation, a gun control group, puts annual cash expenditures on guns and bullets at $5 billion a year. But that’s only for firearms in America’s largest municipal police departments. This does not include the money needed to buy bullets and other equipment for the cops, such as holsters.
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And that doesn’t include the vast array of police departments in small towns or state and federal agencies such as the FBI, Secret Service and US Marshals who also send public bids for firearms. Or the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.
In other words, it’s not a small buy or a small bidding war.
And if you add the US military to the tax dollars earmarked for arms and ammunition, experts say, the overall bill could reach hundreds of billions of dollars.
With that in mind, gun control advocates ask another fundamental question: If local, state, and federal agencies are spending so much tax on guns and ammunition, why not use the power of the wallet – and public auctions – to force gun manufacturers and dealers to adopt more security measures? In other words, make dollars and cents the primary lobbying tool in the debate about how to improve common sense gun safety measures.
It is striking that more gun control supporters are not adopting this strategy. Maybe they should.
The process is simple. As with many expenditures of taxpayers’ money, government agencies are turning to a public bidding process. Local governments ask for bids when renovating a city’s sidewalks or schools. Similarly, police departments ask for offers from gun manufacturers or dealers when purchasing new guns and bullets.
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So, as part of the bidding process for arms and ammunition, why not call on gunsmiths and dealers to impose security measures?
So far, the gun debate has been reduced to an argument pointing to the morals and meaning of a grammatically murky amendment to the US Constitution that was drafted when ordinary people relied on muskets to one-shot and slow-loading and had no idea. some 200 years later, their ancestors would have firearms capable of firing dozens of shots in seconds simply by pulling a trigger.
As we all know, the national firearms debate is virtually frozen. Neither side is ready to budge. Arms makers and dealers, meanwhile, essentially stay on the sidelines, with little pressure on them to impose their own regulations on what they sell.
Yes, Congress recently managed to cobble together a bipartisan bill — quickly signed by President Joe Biden — that would improve background checks on new gun buyers and provide more money to fortify schools and other self-help. -called “soft targets”. The idea behind the recent law was for Congress and the White House to do something to assure the American public that its elected representatives actually had a pulse — and a heart — and were trying to make the nation safer in the midst of the horrific increase in mass shootings this year, including massacres at a Buffalo grocery store and at an elementary school in Texas.
But the new law does virtually nothing to limit the sale of the types of weapons that are most often used in mass shootings – military-grade assault rifles such as the AR-15 or a wide range of semi-automatic handguns. The law also does little to limit the purchase of mass quantities of ammunition.
In other words, the new law is the equivalent of a bandage.
This brings us to the potential strategy, slowly adopted by some members of the American gun control movement, of turning to government agency tax expenditures to increase pressure on gun manufacturers and dealers to improve security.
It’s a tenuous and risky strategy, experts say. And that could lead to even more contentious debates.
Gun makers and dealers are interested in profits – and therefore sell as many guns as they can. What if they decided to self-regulate? Or to be more blunt: what if the government’s bidding process forced gun manufacturers and dealers to finally join the national movement to make guns safer?
For example, suppose dealers are campaigning for a more intense method of domestic background checks on gun buyers? Or limits on the purchase of ammunition? Or – and this is where the issue becomes even more contentious – increased security measures on assault rifles that would prevent people from loading high capacity magazines? Or, better yet, a nationwide ban on the manufacture and sale of magazines containing more than, say, five or six cartridges?
Or how about arms dealers and gun manufacturers entering the heated debate over laws that reduce the number of people allowed to carry a concealed weapon? Or even laws that allow for so-called “open carry?” »
Only a few municipal police departments — notably Jersey City’s — have included requests for improved security when airing offers to buy guns. But these demands are modest.
A few dozen other city agencies across America have signed on. But no large urban police service has joined this strategy. And federal agencies are still not involved. Meanwhile, state governments seem reluctant to jump into this fight.
Only New Jersey, after Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order two years ago, called on its local police departments to begin the process of using taxpayer dollars to pressure gunmakers and resellers to improve security.
But the process here in the Garden State is still in its infancy, with police departments still grappling with the kind of requests they want to make in bids for new guns and bullets. Murphy’s executive order also instructs financial institutions that finance arms manufacturers and dealers to call for increased security if they wish to participate in tax-funded tender contracts.
Earlier this year, the Brady Foundation released a report praising Murphy and New Jersey’s efforts to experiment with the pressure of taxpayer dollars. The foundation said the New Jersey system has been “successful both in promoting gun safety and in laying a strong foundation for future action on its behalf.”
But the report also acknowledged that an insufficient number of police departments have participated in the new strategy. Much remains to be done to assess the overall impact of this type of plan.
Unsurprisingly, gun rights advocates see New Jersey’s plan as an imposition and violation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution if police departments use pressure from supply contracts to gain the upper hand on safety firearms.
“There is only one decision that should be considered in the purchase by the police: what is the best firearm for the agency and its members to use?” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs. “Politics should not enter into decisions about what police officers will use to do their job.”
Why not? Why shouldn’t politics be part of the process? America has no problem with its elected officials imposing safety measures when it spends taxpayers’ money on schools and highways. Why not weapons?
As America celebrates another 4th of July holiday, it’s time to face what guns have done to our nation’s independence. We are caught in a bloody stalemate now where one mass shooting occurs every day on average in our country.
Taxpayers must speak out. One way to do this is to impose requirements on how their tax dollars are spent on guns.
Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com as well as the author of three critically acclaimed non-fiction books and a producer of podcasts and documentary films. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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