There is a new year stampede developing that we have not seen for a long time.
Gun stores are swamped with panicking customers. They are looking for handguns, semi-automatic rifles and as much ammunition as they can afford. Buyers are not just camouflaged hunters, conspiracy theorists and gun hoarders. Instead, many of those purchasing firearms and ammo are so-called ordinary people, convinced that this administration will soon begin to centrally register — and then ban — far more than “assault” rifles.
There were probably lots of reasons why Adam Lanza shot 26 innocent children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. So far, however, the government and media are not focusing much on his prior obsessions with violent video games, on society’s seeming inability to hospitalize the unstable, or on the crude violence peddled in Hollywood and through popular music that portrays shooting people as a sort of cheap fantasy without consequences.
Instead, the administration is zeroing in on the ability of Lanza’s mother to legally buy semi-automatic weapons that her son then stole to murder her, schoolchildren and school employees. The result is a pandemic of fear that the Second Amendment will be reinterpreted and redefined as never before.
With the resolution of the fiscal cliff, taxes on those who make more than $400,000 are going to rise considerably, as they will revert to the Clinton-era income tax rates. Only this time the landscape is radically different.
There will not be much deficit reduction and certainly no balanced budgets, adding insult to injury for those who must pay the government far more.
The new, higher rates also come on top of state income tax hikes in many states — all in addition to further increases in capital gains taxes and new Obamacare taxes. The result is not just a 3 percent to 5 percent increase on the well-off. For some payers there will be various aggregate hikes of 7 percent to 8 percent or even more.
No wonder many companies are rushing to pay dividends now to beat rising capital-gains tax rates. Likewise, many individuals are considering expensive, new life insurance policies to protect their heirs from losing small farms and business to federal estate taxes that may soon increase dramatically. Red states will attract even more refugees fleeing high-tax and nearly insolvent blue states.
Most Americans are already seeing their health insurance premiums shoot up, in anticipation of the 2014 federal takeover of health care. To pay for the vast Obamacare programs — whose details remain a mystery for most — money will be raised in all sorts of bizarre ways, from reducing Medicare coverage to taxing new medical devices and some drugmakers.
A sense of foreboding hangs over the currently insured. Almost everyone is unsure whether the new federal statutes will still cover currently covered procedures — or whether they will be rationed or curtailed altogether. Expect many people to schedule check-ups and major medical procedures in 2013 before Obamacare kicks in.
There is a common denominator that underlies all this multifaceted uncertainty. Fairly or not, there is a sense that those who played by the rules and did well instead have done something wrong, or at least are under suspicion, and it is now time for their government to seek atonement from them. Worse still is the dread that the government’s new policies and taxes will not solve problems, but may make them worse and prompt even more government engineering.
For the law-abiding gun owner, the federal government may make it more difficult to buy legal arms — even though there is little evidence that gun restrictions have stopped shootings, and some evidence that states with lots of armed citizens have lower crime rates. If the semi-automatic rifle ban does not work, what gun is next to be banned to stop violence?
Most well-off taxpayers add up their local, state, federal, payroll and capital gains taxes and feel they really have paid their “fair share.” They all know that handing over more won’t solve the fiscal crisis, but instead only empowers more government deficit spending. If new taxes on some won’t stop deficits, what’s next?
Finally, those who budgeted and provided their own health insurance feel that the new restrictions and higher taxes on their coverage are the costs of subsidizing many who could have bought, but chose not to buy, their own health insurance.
The ability of citizens to protect their households, to keep at least half their earnings safe from various government taxes, and to use their own judgment in making health care decisions is central to a free people. No wonder the fear that a radically growing government will infringe on such traditional freedoms is sending millions of Americans stampeding in all directions.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution.