Pay for NRA's Armed Guard Plan With a Gun Tax

A gun tax would help fund the NRA armed guard proposal that would cost taxpayers $15.4 billion.

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National Rifle Association member Sam Gallo takes aim as he looks at a display of handguns at an NRA annual convention in Kansas City, Mo.

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Patrick Kiger is a Washington, D.C.-area journalist, author and blogger. He has written for GQ, the Los Angeles Times and other publications, and is a blogger for the Science Channel and the AARP. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickJKiger.

After a week of radio silence after the Sandy Hook massacre, the National Rifle Association resurfaced today with a predictable solution to protecting the nation's schoolchildren from gun violence: More guns.

At a press conference, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre proposed putting an armed police officer in every school in the nation, to guard against the "unknown number of genuine monsters" that he says are waiting for their chance to mount a similar assault. "With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can't afford to put a police officer in every school?" asked LaPierre.

LaPierre says an armed presence on school grounds actually would provide what he touts as "absolute protection" against an attack—a shaky assumption, considering that Columbine High School had an armed county sheriff's deputy on the campus when it was attacked by two teenage gunmen in 1999, and he was unable to prevent them from killing a dozen students and a teacher, and injuring 21 others.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

But let's assume that LaPierre is right, and that putting an armed officer in each of the nation's 132,183 public and private schools would make schools safer. How would we fund it? According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the nation has 461,000 local police officers, but they already have plenty of responsibilities to keep them busy, and it's hard to imagine police departments allocating more than a quarter of their personnel to watching over schools. So clearly, we'd have to recruit, hire, equip and train more officers for the job. According to the agency, the average total operating cost of each officer—including salary, benefits, equipment, and training—is $116,500.

That means that the NRA's proposal would cost taxpayers about $15.4 billion annually.

I know that LaPierre doesn't think that's a lot of money compared to what we spend on foreign aid, but in fact, it is well more than any item in the foreign aid budget. According the State Department's FY 2013 fact sheet, the cost of providing an armed officer to every school in the nation would amount to five times what we provide in military assistance to Israel ($3.1 billion in 2012), and nearly four times the $4 billion that we spend on humanitarian assistance to war refugees and victims of natural disasters. It would amount to 15 times what we spend to support the United Nations and other international organizations.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Should Teachers Be Armed?]

So we're talking about a lot of bucks here, especially at a time when federal taxes seem almost certain to go up for most Americans in 2013. Is it fair that the majority—70 percent of Americans, according to this 2011 survey—who don't own guns should pay higher taxes to support the NRA's idea, because of LaPierre's insistence that gun control laws are unfair to gun owners?

I say no. Instead, here's a counter-proposal. Let's tax gun purchases to subsidize the cost of the NRA's school security proposal. Gun owners bought 10.8 million firearms in 2011, according to Ammoland, a website for gun enthusiasts. At a surcharge of, say, $1,425 per weapon, we'd have enough to provide the absolute protection that LaPierre wants. We might be able to lower that a bit by adding additional taxes to ammunition as well.