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Professor John G. Culhane Proposes Gun Tax to Compensate Victims of Shootings

Professor John G. Culhane

March 24, 2014

Arguing that a victim compensation system, funded by a tax against gun manufacturers, may be the only way to hold gun manufacturers accountable for victims of gun violence, John G. Culhane, Professor of Law and Director of the Health Law Institute at Widener University School of Law, presented his novel approach to gun reform at the law school on March 24. 

Culhane's proposal, that gun manufacturers pay a tax which goes into a victim compensation fund, was modeled off of a long-standing public health program called the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The vaccine program levies a tax on every sale of a vaccine to build a fund that could compensate individuals for known medical injuries related to vaccination, Culhane said. 

Applying this model to gun manufacturing makes sense, Culhane argued, because, unlike other products that are subject to strict liability for the harmful consequences of their use, gun manufacturers are held relatively unaccountable for violence that results from the use of their product, Culhane claimed.  Gun manufacturers are also exempt from oversight by most federal product regulating agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Thus, traditional legal actions or regulations do little, if anything, to change gun manufacturers' behavior. 

Culhane argued that a tax tied to a victim compensation fund may motivate manufacturers to build better gun safety mechanisms.  Alternatively, manufacturers facing a tax may sell their products to more responsible resellers rather than engaging in the common practice of selling to unscrupulous gun resellers that put weapons in the hands of the wrong individuals, Culhane said. 

Culhane recognized that there would be a number of obstacles to overcome before such a tax and fund could be administered.  Namely, how to determine victim eligibility, liability and overall administration.  Ultimately, however, Culhane believed that many of these obstacles may be addressed through  innovative applications of traditional tort liability principles.