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The EditorsAugust 13, 2012

Until mid-July, few Americans expected the words gun control to be spoken during this year’s presidential election campaign. But when James E. Holmes fired his weapons, including a semiautomatic rifle with a 100-round capacity, in a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., the issue of gun control pinged back into the nation’s consciousness, at least for an instant.

Why is it so easy for a killer to stockpile an arsenal of guns and ammunition without anyone’s notice until the rounds rip into a crowd? Our society asked that question in 2011 after Jared Loughner’s rampage in Tucson, Ariz. We are asking it again with the arrest of Mr. Holmes for allegedly killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. Is society powerless to prevent incidents like these? Or could a strong national ban on semiautomatic weapons plus a centralized system of record-keeping, background checks, licensing and monitoring of purchases have prevented this slaughter of innocents? If some say that gun violence is the cost society must pay for citizens to exercise the constitutional right to bear arms, then others must insist that the cost is too high. Constitutional rights like freedom of speech, press and assembly are subject to limits, and so should the right to be armed.

Gun control requires strong leadership and a supportive electorate, both currently in short supply. Several states (including California, New York and Massachusetts) ban assault weapons. Although Mitt Romney opposes gun control now, he was governor of Massachusetts when that state’s ban was made permanent. Barack Obama vowed as a presidential nominee to reinstate the ban on semiautomatic weapons. During the Holmes case, however, he has not reaffirmed his vow, because tightening gun laws will not win him votes. Blaming politicians, though, is insufficient. As “the self-governed,” we Americans should admit that no citizen needs a semiautomatic weapon. Catholics ought to champion gun control because restrictions would promote life, as they do in the case of abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia.

The national ban on military-style assault weapons, passed by Congress in 1994, expired with mixed results in 2004. The ban, neither clear nor strong enough, allowed too many exceptions, and foreign imports flooding the market offset the gains. Efforts to reinstate a ban have failed. So have such proposals as regulation of gun-show sales (which are lax on background checks and third-party buyers) and a ban on clips that hold more than 10 bullets. While the proposals might inconvenience gun owners, they offer significant gains to law enforcement and public safety. And if gun manufacturers were required to stamp shell casings for semiautomatic weapons, the police could identify the guns used in crimes—a major step forward. The gun lobby, however, has successfully fought each of these proposals.

In the weighing of rights, a gun-owner’s “freedom” ought not to trump all the societal benefits to be gained from limiting it. That view is no longer popular. Instead, gun ownership has increased; the National Rifle Association has become a more formidable political force; some states have expanded gun rights; and the portion of Americans who favor gun control has shrunk. Even support for the assault weapons ban is at a record low.

After a massacre, questions about the collective good are typically raised. Yet they are put aside once the gunman is portrayed as a lone actor among millions of law-abiding gun-owners, whose constitutional rights ought not be infringed because of one oddball’s misbehavior. Thus society allows individuals to build an armory, heedless of the rights of all Americans to live in safety.

Those who find legal limits intrusive and ineffective make comparisons to diminish the toll of gun violence; each year more people are killed by cars than by guns, they point out. Yet automobiles are not only licensed, but registration must pass from buyer to buyer; and every car owner must buy liability insurance. Society has a duty to hold car owners accountable, because cars can (and do) cause serious injury and death. That duty extends to gun owners as well.

Extreme individualism underlies the tendency to extend personal liberty at society’s expense. That attitude also distorts other public policy debates, like those over taxation and health care.

Until society’s preference for the unlimited exercise of individual rights over those of the common good is tempered, our nation will remain hostage to the gun lobby. And our politicians will be reduced to offering victims condolences rather than solutions to gun violence. Is this the society we want?

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Robert Sherman
10 years 4 months ago

You miss the point. You focus on gun control rather than accountability and action. Hundreds of people are killed each year in our major cities as a result of gun violence completely unrelated to amassing volumes of weapons. In the Aurora case, it appears that once again there is a failure to take action in the case of a mental health problem. Society is not protected when no action is take until after action is taken to harm innocents.

Programs like stop and frisk work and should be expanded. So do security guards and programs which may have stopped it in its tracks.

Focus on gun laws is a cop out for lack of action to people and institutions like the university accountable (if they could have taken some action but neglected to), failure to fix horrible educational systems, stagnant economic growth and a nihilistic lack of faith in the American dream put forth with great political success by the left.

Katherine Lawrence
10 years 4 months ago
yes, but... There are plenty of examples of people w/o access to guns and still get angry enough to murder. The issue is what's in a person's heart, not the tools available. I'm not comfortable with more stringent gun laws for the reasons that 'right wingers' say. and i'm not a right winger. and, my same argument against priests who moralize about the rest of the world: fix the church first.

Until society's (Catholic church's) obsession with individual rights (sexist male dominated anti women as clergy dogma) is tempered, our nation (our church) will remain hostage to the gun lobby (embarrassing, shameful actions).
Carlos Orozco
10 years 4 months ago
In Mexico, citizens can own only a handgun after many bureaucratic hurdles and prove they need it for legitimate protection. That does not stop drug cartels from comitting any number of atrocieties and acquiring any kind of weaponry. Attorney General Holder, for example, has no problem selling thousands of firearms to them.


And Fast and Furious is but one single operation that we know of.
james belna
10 years 4 months ago
You asked "could a strong national ban on semiautomatic weapons plus a centralized system of record-keeping, background checks, licensing and monitoring of purchases have prevented this slaughter of innocents?" The answer, of course, is no. As far as we know, Holmes had no criminal record or documented mental illness that would have prevented him from passing a record check. Even if he did, it would have been easy enough for him to obtain any weapons that he wanted illegally. In any event, Holmes didn't need guns to commit mass murder; he could have just as easily used a home-made bomb, such as the ones that were found in his apartment.

You also asked another question: "Is society powerless to prevent incidents like these?" There are two measures which would help prevent massacres like the one in Aurora. Sadly but predictably, the editors of America oppose them both. First, the facts of the Aurora incident show that Holmes was seriously concerned about his own safety, as he took the precaution of wearing body armor to protect himself. This was not a suicide mission. Even though Colorado generally allows ciitzens to carry guns. the movie theater was a designated gun-free zone. It was one of the few places in the area where Holmes could open fire on a roomful of people without having to risk being shot by an armed victim. This is consistent with the recent history of violent massacres, in which the killer has almost always chosen a gun-free venue. The assault in the movie theater might have had a very different outcome if the audience had been able to defend themselves, and it is likely that Holmes never would have chosen it in the first place if he knew that the patrons could be armed.

Second, Holmes was able to kill a dozen innocent people with complete confidence that the legal system in Colorado will never hold him accountable for his crimes. Once you take the death penalty off the table (as Colorado has done de facto), there is no reason why a killer should limit his carnage. If the state is going to make the punishment the same (life in prison) whether you kill one person or one hundred, then why not take out a whole theater?

10 years 4 months ago
The idea that had someone been armed in the theater (I seriously doubt that no one was) they could have prevented this situation.  After 29 years in Federal Law Enforcement, had people been armed (which I doubt), my guess is that there would have been higher casulties than what occured.  The very idea that one can "fast draw" a criminal is absolutely ludicrous.  Several years ago there was a shooting in a cafeteria in Texas.  The same argument was raised.  Please.  If you think that in Texas not one person in that cafeteria was "packing" you're sadly mistaken.  Through the years I've known many avid hunters and sportsmen.  Very few if any would see a need to go hunting with a drum magazine containing 100 rounds...or extended clips carrying 50 or 25.  Some of the hunters and sportsment I've talked to said that if it takes you 50 or 100 rounds to kill your prey...you'd best try another sport.  Advocates for assault weapons, i.e., weapons of war, not of sport, say they assault weapons, are needed to protect citizens from the Government.  If you think that little of this country, our system of voting and electing our officials as well as the Constitution and the checks and balances inherent in our system, I mourn for this country.  The gun lobby is probably the most powerful lobby in the United States today.  It has bought politicians on both sides, Democrat and Republican and the ones they haven't bought they intimidate (obviously there are some exceptions but those are in the minority).  Why do we not scream and protest regulations on traffic speeds, prescription drugs, motor vehicle licenses, airplane pilots, food products and food processing to name just a few?  We are still stuck with the "Wild West Mentality" that in order to be a man you have to have a gun (and preferably one with a large magazine capacity).


Vincent Gaitley
10 years 4 months ago
It isn't "extreme individualism" that distorts taxation policy, or health care for that matter.  It's rational self-interest, once called liberty, or classical liberalism.  My money is mine, period.  I pay taxes to support the government, but if those taxes become confiscatory, punitive, or targeted, then my liberty is diminished.  That's never in the common good.  While more than half the country pays no taxes and the so called rich foot the bill, remember your tax free status exists at my sufferance, happily so, but not necessarily permanently so.  Mr. Obama and his ilk will tax you, suppress you, and co-opt you into his statist ideas long before I would.  We need more radical individualism, not less.  We need an attitude to grow among the poor to revolt against their poverty, not a plan to keep them there.  A nation of solid individuals, dignified, capable, and self possessed is a nation where folks have no inclination to shoot each other:  the Swiss, who are heavily armed, each of them, are a fine example. 
james belna
10 years 4 months ago
I would like to add some historical perspective to the Texas cafeteria shooting that Deacon Sullivan referred to - the 1991 Luby's massacre, in which 23 people were shot to death. At the time, Texas had a more restrictive law which precluded most citizens from legally carrying a concealed gun in a public place. I am unaware of any accounts of any of the victims possessing handguns.

I do know that Suzanna Hupp, a patron who (in compliance with the law) had left her gun in the car, watched in helpless horror as the gunman murdered both of her parents. Largely due to Ms Hupp's testimony, the cafeteria massacre was the catalyst for a far more permissive concealed-carry law, which generally gives any trained law-abiding citizen of Texas the right to obtain a license to legally carry a concealed gun.
Ronald Ruais
10 years 4 months ago

It is always a tricky thing to balance solidarity and subsidiarity. You, avoid the problem by using the adjective “extreme” to qualify individualism.

You touched on a solution to the gun problem. I think that technology utilizing a central database to record purchases of guns and ammunition would be a step in the right direction. Any data mining effort in a database of that nature would certainly have flagged a purchase of 6,000 rounds of ammunition, even if it was over time.

But the elimination of guns altogether would only result in gun possession being unique to criminals. It would allow for runaway governments as well. The resistance demonstrated against tyrants in the Middle East is the example.

The firing of a gun is not an intrinsically evil act. It still takes intent, consequences and unintended consequences. These are human components unavailable in inanimate objects. 

Virginia Edman
10 years 4 months ago
There are many components to this tragedy: the movie character 'the joker' (an evil character who has gotten darker with each movie featuring the dark knight):  the mental illness of the murderer (if he is in fact mentally ill):  the access to guns and ammunition.  Someone must have known he was dangerous and did not speak up.

Instead of making excuses, why not argue in favour of making changes in access to guns and ammunition.  Why argue and argue that guns are necessary.  Guns are necessary to a gun culture, and the gun culture leads to greater violence with deadly results. 
E.Patrick Mosman
10 years 4 months ago

It seems that there is very litle thought given to the fact that cities with the strictist gun control  laws, Chicago, New York, Baltimore et al that keep the average, honest, everday citizen disarmed have the highest number of gun related crimes and murders.as petty and hard core criminals have no qualms abou acquiring and using guns in criminal activities and to settle scores. If every home,apartment and mom&pop store had a sign in the window, "The resident or owner is a gun toting member of the NRA. All are welcome and all are warned" there might be less gun violence
In1949 Howard Unruh walked down a city block in Camden NJ with a handgun and killed 13 people,men, women and children, one more than the Colorado killer. That should be sufficient for the gun control fanatics to call for a complete ban on hand guns. Enacting a ban on one type of firearm is the start down the slippery slope to a ban on all firearms.
Jim McCrea
10 years 4 months ago

"There are plenty of examples of people w/o access to guns and still get angry enough to murder. "


And how many people can they murder without weapons versus having weapons, particularly the military-style, high velocity, high capacity weapons that seem to be considered as the Divine Right of Ownership by 2nd Amendment fanatics? You know, they kind of weapons that help form a "well-regulated militia?"

Iris Heredia Thompson
10 years 4 months ago
We can spend hours and hours discussing our very contradicting point of views and come up with fragile and unsustainable arguments.  While we are passionately defending our patriotic views, there are hundreds mourning in the community of Wisconsin.  Another tragedy that could have been prevented. 

We need to pray for wisdom, courage, compassion and a change of heart for all of us.
John Hess
10 years 4 months ago

Since firearms are only the tools people use for killing, perhaps it would be better to focus on the person rather than the tool.  Does a person have the maturity and responsibility to possess such a tool? 

Murder is a young man's game.  Very few people in jail for killing committed their crime when over the age of thirty.  Also, certain mental illnesses frequently begin to manifest themselves in one's early twenties.  The Virginia Tech, Gabbby Giffords, and Aurora killings all featured mentally disturbed young men.

People under 16 can't drive because they lack the necessary maturity.
People under 18 can't vote because they lack the necessary maturity.
People under 21 can't vote buy alcohol because they lack the necessary maturity.
People under 35 can't become president because they lack the necessary maturity.

So why do we let young folks possess semi-automantic weapons with large capacity magazines? 

Can't we deem that a person under 30 shouldn't possess semi-automantic weapons because they lack the necessary maturity?  Let the young be content with the revolvers, shotguns, and bolt action rifles necessary for home defence and hunting.  There will still be tragedies like Aurora, but at least the body count will be lower.         

Jonathan James
10 years 4 months ago
it is chilling to see an editorial about "excessive obsession with individual rights" in this paper because they are attacking the foundation of this country. If you had paired it with the need to improve focus on individual responsibility, then it would make sense. But instead you fell back on the tired meme that if only we had more government laws then we would all be safer.
How about this for your next editorial:  Until we can stop our excessive obsession with killing individual freedom with more government laws, no one is safe.
Jim McCrea
10 years 4 months ago

"Can't we deem that a person under 30 shouldn't possess semi-automantic weapons because they lack the necessary maturity?"


Can't we deem that ANY person shouldn't possess semi-automantic weapons because they lack ANY reason to own one except to take another's life?


All of this warbling about individual liberty is cold comfort to those whose "individual liberty" has been lost along with their lives, usually taken by some male with testosterone problems.

William Lindsey
10 years 4 months ago
@Vincent Gaitley: "My money is mine, period."

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 66:

"When one man has excess wealth (that is, property and wealth which are beyond his legitimate needs) while another is in poverty (lacking material necessities), the rich man is a thief. The excess he possesses belongs to the poor man and, if he refuses to distribute his wealth accordingly, he plays the part of the 'rich fool' in the Gospel parable."


St. Ambose (De Nabuthe, c.12, n.53):

“You are not making a gift of your possessions to poor persons. You are handing over to them what is theirs. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”

St. John Chrysostom (Hom. in Lazaro 2,5):

“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”

St. Gregory the Great (Regula Pastoralis 3,21):

 “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”

The Decretals (Dist. XLVII, cited in ST II-II, q.66, a.3, obj 2):

“It is no less a crime to take from him that has, than to refuse to succor the needy when you can and are well off.”

St. Ambrose: “It is the hungry man’s bread that you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man’s ransom and freedom.”

Leo, XIII, Rerum Novarum:

Every person has by nature the right to possess property as his or her own […] But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used?, the Church replies without hesitation in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘One should not consider one’s material possessions as one’s own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when other are in need.’ […]  

Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes:

“God has intended the earth and all that it contains for the use of all people and all peoples. Hence justice, accompanied by charity, must so regulate the distribution of created goods that they are actually available to all in an equitable measure. […] Therefore, in using them everyone should consider legitimate possessions not only as their own but also as common property, in the sense that they should be able to profit not only themselves but other people as well.  

Paul VI, Populorum Progressio

“Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping for one’s exclusive use what one does not need, when others lack necessities."

Vincent Gaitley
10 years 4 months ago
Mr. Lindsey:  Thank you for the sources and quotes on the nature of property.  Too bad the Church doesn't follow them.  The Church is incompetent on economics, influenced too long on your medieval notions of serfdom, and feudalism.  Sts. Ambrose, Thomas A., and John C. never had jobs, families to support, or mortgages, or democratic governments.  They were commenting on a time when lords had all, and everyone else little, while they themselves lived by the fruits of charity.  Now these days charity is still a virtue, taxes are not.  Paying confiscatory taxes is not a Christian act nor does it make a virtuous government, and after trillions of dollars transfered to the "poor", I can prove it does not end poverty either.  My complaint remains that our government is out of control, and that diminishes liberty; dependency, whether moral or financial or political, on any government is a modern form of slavery.  I earned my wealth, I donate charitably. I determine my needs, and the needs of my family. Claiming what's mine is actually yours is the real theft.  The Bible isn't a science book; the saints aren't economists, and we all know the Church isn't democratic.  Catholic political economic thinking needs updating.   
Robert Burke
10 years 4 months ago

Imagine going to a church or temple and you sit down with everybody else.

You notice to your left is Marcus Luttrell (former US Navy Seal) and he carries a concealed Baretta 9 mm.  To your right is Clint Eastwood, and he carries a concealed .44 mag S & W.

Then, a madman comes in (like in 1770, the "run amok" experience James Cook ran into in Malaysia that has historically AWAYS happened to young, frustrated men... they go crazy and kill innocent people, until the innocent people do something about being killed in confined spaces (i.e. Russia Moscow Theater Siege, churches in Nigeria, etc.) and this young man starts shooting people.

To your left you hear a noise.  To your right you hear a noise.  Problem solved.

Any questions, refer to writers of the future, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and such:  An armed society is a polite society.  A backwards, socialist society disarms itself.

Oh yes, what if you, Marcus or Luttrell either didn't carry concealed that day, or your guns didn't work or shoot straight.  Tough break, kiddo... but it is the tough break of life, not of an oppressive government denying Natural Right to protect self in public, nor the oppressive do-gooders who also deny Natural Right to protect self in public.

Since 1770, modern man has noted that young men can and do go crazy on innocent people in confined spaces.  Modern man has a solution, see Luttrell or Clint above for answer.

William Lindsey
10 years 4 months ago
Mr. Gaitley, thanks for your reply.

You state, "My complaint remains that our government is out of control . . . ."

And my complaint is that you misrepresent (and apparently do not understand) Catholic social teaching and its insistence on the preferential option for the poor.

Your first posting argues that the rich are heavily burdened in American society, and are forced by governmental regulations to carry a heavy load supporting the entire society.

The truth is quite the opposite: we are living through a moment at which taxes have never been lighter for those in the highest income brackets, and in which the burden of carrying our society and its structures is heavily on the backs of the poor and middle classes, on whose exploitation the grossly excessive wealth of the very few directly depends.

You may regard the principles of Catholic social teaching as ill-considereed and ignorant of economic reality, as you say in your second posting.  If you do so, you apparently regard the teaching of Jesus himself and of the prophets as ill-considered and ignorant of economic reality.

Echoing the prophets, Jesus teaches that we have a special obligation to lift burdens from the backs of the poor and not to cater to the rich-who always and everywhere exploit the poor to gain and sustain their wealth.

In the City of God, St. Augustine teaches that the primary function of the state is to curb the tendency of the rich and powerful to abuse the poor and the vulnerable.  Augustine argues for a strong state for this theological reason.  Taxation by the state is a way of curbing the tendency of the wealthy and powerful to exploit the poor and vulnerable.  It is a way of assuring that the wealthy and powerful whose wealth is drawn from a particular society give back in return to that society.

Once again: we are living at a moment of American history when taxes have never been lighter than they are now on the very rich.  Our current socioeconomic system comes nowhere meeting the basic standards of Catholic social teaching.

Your argument, which serves the wealthy and defends the abuse of the poor, runs directly counter to Jesus's teaching in the gospels and to the whole tenor of Catholic social teaching. 
Vincent Gaitley
10 years 4 months ago
Dear Mr. Lindsey:  To begin with, I am completely aware of Catholic social teaching, and for the record, I'm entitled to disagree with it.  That the poor suffer is not news, that they always and everywhere suffer at the hands of the rich is propaganda. Most oppression of the poor comes from governments around the world, including our own.  The state's primary function, contrary to St. Augustine, is to defend the population.  I'm afraid the modern welfare state, while supporting some, wastes too much, and has become a political plaything designed to attract voters to the best government freebie.  I find Catholic social teaching interesting on how we should treat people-person to person-and useless as a guide for governing.  Catholicism is not reconciled completely with liberty as Americans understand it-and Augustine never enjoyed our liberties even as a Roman citizen. Capitalism looks like protestantism to the Church, and not even Michael Novak has persuaded Rome to budge.  Like I wrote, the Church is incompetent at economics, the teachings are out of date, not ill-considered.  They were fine for the 3rd century through the 18th.  But not now.  One helps the poor best by educating and empowering them, something the US government or our Church has not done or achieved only partially.  I lament the existence of the poor all together, but freedom provides choices, and the poor don't choose well often.  Who helps? Nobody.  I was educated exclusively in Catholic schools, but not a soul taught me about money or business or enterprise.  They should have.  Taxes have been lower than current rates, btw.  The US had no income tax from its founding until the early 20th century.  Where does all this treasure go?  To the poor? No.  It fuels a mindless bureaucracy, unaccountable to us, wasteful to itself. Mostly it fuels the war state, and throws a bone to the welfare state.  We'll all be richer-including the poor-when the frankenstate is defunded, and the war capacity reduced.  That I think, is in Catholic social teaching too.  The whole purpose of freedom is to live the life you want-within the law-and become who you wish. Some get rich, some get power-annoying but tolerable outcomes.  Some dither and waste, some suffer inexplicably, some muddle, some harm others.  If you want to see the rich exploit the poor, go to Asia.  Or get in a time machine and vist the Papal States 5 centuries ago, or any other "enlightened" Catholic country.  Remember, in many ways the American Revolution overthrew the old world, including the old Catholic mercantile and feudal system. I am one Jesuit educated Catholic who thanks God for Protestants, and the end of birthright politics, and the European class system. Yet that liberty comes at a social price, and the price is risk, struggle, and failure. Building a business and providing for one's family and employing others and offering a good service or product to the market is prayful and holy. Success is not sinful. If it is, then close every Catholic college today.  St. Benedict seemed to understand that, Trappists must earn their keep, not live by donations. Good idea for everyone.  The Founding Fathers would not have thought it cynical to put "In God We Trust" on our currency.  Our labor is sacred, and we are entitled to keep the fruits of that holy action.  God bless our endeavors.     
William Lindsey
10 years 4 months ago
Thanks for your additional response, Mr. Gaitley.

"Like I wrote, the Church is incompetent at economics, the teachings are out of date, not ill-considered.  They were fine for the 3rd century through the 18th."

I continue, fundamentally, to disagree.  I don't find Jesus's teachings about our obligation to the poor (and about how the rich use the poor) "out of date."

I find them remarkably prescient, morally insightful, and challenging.

They are also foundational for any church which claims faithfully to transmit the memory and teaching of Jesus.

Your understanding of what goes on in the socioeconomic and political realms is highly ideological, counterintuitive, and untrue.  It pays little attention to the realities of socioeconomic and political life.

You rely on an ideological analysis of the so-called welfare state which pays absolutely no attention to the most salient fact of all about contemporary American socioeconomic and political life: the rich are taxed at lower rates than ever before in American history.

And all the talk about how reducing taxation of the rich spurs more charity on the part of the rich, and generates more wealth for the entire society, is absolutely false.  We have only to look around ourselves, and, above all, to listen (as Jesus told us we must, if we expect salvation) to the testimony of the least among us, to know how absurd this ideological blathering is. 
Vincent Gaitley
10 years 4 months ago
Here are the historical tax rates since the income tax began in 1913:

[hide] Partial History of Marginal Income Tax Rates Adjusted for Inflation
Income First Top Bracket
Year Brackets Bracket Rate Income Adj. 2011 Comment
1913 7 1% 7% $500,000 $11.3M First permanent income tax
1917 21 2% 67% $2,000,000 $35M World War I financing
1925 23 1.5% 25% $100,000 $1.28M Post war reductions
1932 55 4% 63% $1,000,000 $16.4M Depression era
1936 31 4% 79% $5,000,000 $80.7M
1941 32 10% 81% $5,000,000 $76.3M World War II
1942 24 19% 88% $200,000 $2.75M Revenue Act of 1942
1944 24 23% 94% $200,000 $2.54M Individual Income Tax Act of 1944
1946 24 20% 91% $200,000 $2.30M
1954 24 20% 91% $200,000 $1.67M
1964 26 16% 77% $400,000 $2.85M Tax reduction during Vietnam war
1965 25 14% 70% $200,000 $1.42M
1981 16 14% 70% $212,000 $532k Reagan era tax cuts
1982 14 12% 50% $106,000 $199k "
1987 5 11% 38.5% $90,000 $178k "
1988 2 15% 28% $29,750 $56k "
1991 3 15% 31% $82,150 $135k
1993 5 15% 39.6% $250,000 $388k
2003 6 10% 35% $311,950 $380k Bush era tax cuts
2011 6 10% 35% $379,150 $379k
Vincent Gaitley
10 years 4 months ago
Mr. Lindsey, the only salient fact about taxes in the US is that the rich pay most of them. And historically, the rates were low at inception and have risen and fallen over the years. Today's 6 brackets ranging from 10% to 35% are simply not the lowest taxes have ever been. In happier days before 1913, the income tax rate was zero.  Taxes rose to pay for warfare, not welfare.  John F. Kennedy proposed a reduction in taxes in the sixties that triggered a vast expansion of economic growth.  So did Reagan.  

I never wrote that reducing taxes spurs charity; I did say that taxes are not a form of charity because taxes are coerced.  Charity is and must be a gift.  The US Government is not at all a charity; however, our Church doesn't always behave like one either.  

Why do some think it is greedy to keep earned money, but not greedy for the
government to confiscate it?  There is no greed like government greed. Why do you think the government is the better steward of my money than me?  I say instead, earn what you can, provide for loved ones, give what you can, and pay the lowest possible amount of tax to the government.  Government doesn't create wealth, but it can destroy it.  Only enterprise generates wealth, and the poor remain so because they can not save or build capital.  I believe all government programs should be aimed at wealth creation, capital building, and savings for the poor.   

The French have announced plans to tax the rich at 75% for money earned over 2 million euros I think.  This will backfire, the rich will leave, or the money will.  Smarter to take less from more folks than to scare away the enterprising.  And the new French president states simply that he wants to punish the rich, and that he doesn't like the rich.  Punish? But hey, the French deserve each other, so be it.  
In America, we are free-at least we were.  When you add up the tax bill: State, Local, Property, and Federal...plus everyday consumer taxes as on gasoline, well, the bill is high enough.  Less in spending, better fiscal management, and the restoration of VALUE to the dollar might encourage folks like me.  But I have little hope of that.  By the way, the loss of value in the dollar destroys the poor more than anything (just saying). Blindly forking over money to irresponsible politicians is not virtuous either. 

So please read the above posted chart or look up the historical rates.  There is so much myth floating out in the political blather.  I don't believe everything in the Bible, no one should.  Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Savior, never paid taxes, or earned a drachma, or materially (really truly) helped the poor.  Oh, he talked, but he left his mother, wandered with comrades, and preached including encouraging others to give to the poor, but not himself since he had no money.  Miracles come easily to gods, so feeding the people with loaves and fishes wasn't real charity either.   Is this divine charity? There is more challenge in Christian teaching than we think.  If there is blather about, it is about the sentimental notions of what Jesus actually did. After two thousand years, we still don't understand Him, but I'm sure He wasn't an economist, nor a democrat (small d). Thanks.  
William Lindsey
10 years 3 months ago
Mr. Gaitley, you write, "Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Savior, never paid taxes, or earned a drachma, or materially (really truly) helped the poor."

It appears you didn't go to a school similar to mine as a boy.  In first grade, all students in my class were required to learn by heart the nativity narrative in Luke's gospel.  The public school in which we were required to memorize and recite that piece used the King James translation back in the 1950s.

The very first line of the narrative reads, "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed."

And, of course, the narrative then proceeds to an account of how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to comply with the regulations of the state, and Mary gave birth to a son . . . who was known for his compassion for and solidarity with the poor, having been born in a manger, a stranger with parents sojourning in a strange place in which there was no room in the inn.

Always the lot of the poor throughout history, to sojourn in strange places, find no room in the inn, be born in a manger, and sustain socieities through their unacknolwedged labor-and, frequently, by paying taxes from which the wealthy are exempt.

As is the case in the United States today, to our shame.  Not only do we belie our claim to be a morally exemplary nation, we've become a downright babaric one in our exploitation of the poor and mindless exaltation of the rich. 

And no amount of doctored pretend-statistics can hide that reality from any of us with eyes to see. 
Vincent Gaitley
10 years 3 months ago
Mary and Joseph complied with the Augustan edict so far as we can tell.  If Jesus paid taxes, it is not recorded.  The Romans were harsh, brutal, and oppressive to the conquered, and barbaric is a good description for them.  Yet they were something of an improvement.  So is America.  Imperfect, but better than Cuba, North Korea, China; better than Germany, France, and Britain, too.  

You did not mention the tax rates which you so clearly claimed were lower now than ever, yet they are not.  I'm not anti-poor, nor pro-rich.  I am pro liberty and am happy to let the chips fall where they may.  Yet if the goal of public policy and taxation is to raise revenue, then lower and comprehensible taxes are smarter public policy.  Compliance, collection, civility benefit.  Maybe then the rate of tax would not be such a point of dispute for half the nation, you know, the tax paying half.  More revenue would be gained, etc.  Deficits are caused by overspending, not low tax rates alone.

The poor will not benefit at all from an insolvent government, and that's where we are headed, if not there already.  

Jesus was primarily a healer and preacher.  Some of his sayings are downright strange, even today.  Some are contradictory or paradoxical to the point of weakening His message.  Jesus drove the demoniacs into the swine, and then the innocent pigs walked into the water and drowned.  This upset the swineherders to such a degree, they asked Jesus to leave.  Since they had pigs, they must have been Gentiles...so why did Jesus effectively kill a good productive herd?  Why not just vanquish the demons?  (Matthew, end of Chapter 8, I think)

Why not heal every sick and injured person, instead of those mentioned?  The point is, there are unintended consequences even for Jesus' teachings, and His followers.  Nothing was doctored or pretended in the tax chart I posted.  The income tax was 1% rising to 7% in 1913.  Today, although the top rate is 35% on paper, the effective average paid rate is 16.1% due to deductions.  I say scrap the deductions-all of them-and lower the rate to 20% for incomes over 5 million, and 10% on incomes less than that. The extreme poor pay nothing as usual. But scrap all other federal taxes too, so the poor aren't paying on consumer goods like gasoline, and telephone, etc.  Ten percent of a million dollars is 100K; 10% of $20,000 is $2,000.  The rich do pay more even with a flat tax.  So what if they earn more, get over it.  

Meanwhile, where are the starving hordes in the US?  The sweat factories overseen by barbarians?  Unhappy for the homeless?  Take one in.  Drive one to a Church-good luck with that.  I am not naive or sentimental at all, either about the Faith, or the Federal Government.  Life could be so much better, abundant, joyful.  But the body politic is infected with resentments and empty, power-driven ideology; the Church has perverted the truth, and its mission, and its magisterium. Resenting the rich because of their success is like hating the virtuous because of their grace.  God help us.
Luisa Navarro
10 years 3 months ago
Do you realise how funny (ie peculiar) you US people are?
Can you possibly for one second adopt a rational (ie non-USA) mentality?
Are you Catholics (ie Universal, as opposed to your parochial, insular, monolinguist selves?).
Vincent Gaitley
10 years 3 months ago
Funny? Si. Privativo de America? No.  Rational? Mais oui. Monolinguist (sic) Nada, Nyet, Non.

As for being parochial and insular.  Well, I'll leave that to the British.  America is a vast, diverse, and complicated place.  This magazine America is an English language journal, no apologies for that.  Why should I adopt a non-USA mentality? And for what purpose exactly?  I'll spare you the Latin, but the Roman poet Terence wrote once, "I am human, nothing human is alien to me."

Am I Catholic?  Sure. But nobody's perfect.   
Luisa Navarro
10 years 3 months ago
For the purpose of finding out how absolutely idiotic US views on weapons is...
Vincent Gaitley
10 years 3 months ago
Yeah, the world has a great track record of defending the defenseless.  Let's see, the Armenians, unarmed, were subject to genocide by Turks. Indians crushed by the British, the Irish brutalized for 700 years; Japan raped Manchuria, China; the Chinese subdued the Tibetans; the European Jews burned away.  Sure, it's all history and far away, but not to the American founding fathers who had the foresight to create a government and distrust its power.  So we are armed and pay an awful price in crime and gun accidents, but from sea to shining sea, this place will remain free from invading armies.  A tough bargain, but the US is the oldest continuous democracy under the same Constitution in the world.  We can always do better here, but only here do I see a dynamic freedom bound in law and tradition where so many different people and religions live in peace and bounty.  The world would be a safer saner place if it was as law abiding, free, and bountiful as the US.  Sure, we're idiots.  Thank god.
Robert Burke
10 years 3 months ago
Since Captain James cook in 1770 encountered the "running amok" history of Malaysian individuals (men) who went on killing sprees, the historical basis of "extreme individualism" wherein young men indiscriminently kill innocents cannot be denied.

"That attitude" cannot be wished away when it occurs, as your editorial seems to imply.  "That attitude" is not American only... as killing sprees happen globally.

But in America, we can have an American response to show the world the proper response.  And that response is for innocent citizens to pull their weapons and use them to stop the violent killing spree.

By bearing arms, it instills a "virtuous attitude" that stops the "killing spree attitude."  Your "wishful thinking" and dare I say "condescending attitude" does not stop a killing spree.... ever.  Nope.  Never.

Finally, of utmost importance is the great thought of Luisa Navarro above, that it is of supreme wisdom to "trust, but verify" or grant leaders power but distrust them and have the power to distrust them.

No leader is an angel.  And we are not Santa Claus in the making.  

Clerics tend to always remember that man is fallen, and can easily point their fingers at their fallen sheep under their authority.  Rare is the brilliant leader (like Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum confession) that says "don't trust your leader too much!  We leaders also are not angels!"  (It's biblical.  Look it up!)

Think what thinking would have done to nip in the bud the Catholic troubles with errant preists weilding unquestioned power over boys they molested.

The American Spirit, or it should be said: American Mind knows Natural Law and Natural Rights, and that is that no leader shall be allowed to take away those rights, as the rights were given by God. (Government should never have a monopoly on power (i.e. violence) because it makes sheep blind and mentally passive and too-controlable, too easily out-thought, out-manuevered, sheered.)  Man grants certain leaders certain rights, but the tendency of those in power is to take more rights from sheep than are best for sheep.  It also corrupts leaders to take away Natural Rights, as it tends to be universally stupefying on both the parts of the submissive sheep and over-arching leaders, who just end up being tyrants.  Tyrants enjoy their supplicants, but in the end nobody is happy, and too many people have died in the process of forgetting freedom and Natural Law.

Leaders for far too long have forgotten James Madison's Federalist 51 admonition: No leaders are angels, and hence: no leader can guarantee a church-theater-school is safe from someone intent on a killing spree (see Nigeria church killings/burnings, Chechan School Massacre, Moscow Theater Seige).

Leaders can recognize the Natural Right people have to survive such environs by having the God-Given right to live be respected, and hence grant arms bearing.
After all Utah allows concealed carry (must be 25 years-old) in all public schools, colleges and universities.  Have you noted that there have been no killing sprees in Utah schools?  Bearing arms is a good thing.  Two swords: sufficient, I think Jesus said.  Right?
William Lindsey
10 years 3 months ago
Mr. Gaitley, before you spread further disinformation about the super-rich and taxation in the U.S., you may want to read James B. Stewart's article in the NY Times Today.

An excerpt:

"On the face of it, Senator Harry Reid’s explosive but flimsily sourced claim that Mitt Romney paid no income tax seems preposterous. Mr. Romney has denied it, and without his returns no one can say for sure. But for someone who makes millions of dollars a year, would it even be possible?

Evidently it is.

It so happens that this summer the Internal Revenue Service released data from the 400 individual income tax returns reporting the highest adjusted gross income. This elite ultrarich group earned on average $202 million in 2009, the latest year available. And buried in the data is the startling disclosure that six of the 400 paid no federal income tax."

P.S. And so Jesus's foster father and mother paid taxes, but he himself didn't?  Odd, don't you think?   

Vincent Gaitley
10 years 3 months ago
Sir, I spread no disinformation at all. I merely posted the rates.  As for your post about today's article on the ultra-rich.  Well, good for them.  Six of 400 paid no income tax?  Exactly 1.5 percent of that sample, rather good I should think.  Now how did they do that?  Perhaps they invested in US Treasury bills, State bonds, and municipal debt most of which is tax free; perhaps they gave generously to charity, too; perhaps, in spite of the high net earnings, their gross was much larger but was adjusted for business losses.  All these scenarios are legal and probable in combination.  So what?  I wager that the percentage of tax cheats in the middle income levels is higher than at the top.  Top earners have too much at risk, and their taxes are prepared by professionals who will not risk fraud.  And honestly, the ultra-rich simply do not need to cheat, the law provides deductions and structures and incentives to lower the bill.  Fine.  

Our church, many foundations, and other non-profits hold billions and pay no taxes either.  Harvard has 35 billion dollars in portfolio, yet tuition goes up regularly.  

Rather than complain about their taxes, why not study how the income was made and do likewise, or encourage others to do likewise. Build wealth, and live abundantly.  

I said that if JC paid taxes, it is not recorded. 
Leonard Villa
10 years 3 months ago
Let's not loose perspective with the whole gun control issue. Obsession with individual rights? Are you kidding? Individual rights and freedom are under attack in our country by an ever-encroaching Federal government and Leviathan State. Mayor Bloomberg wants to regulate people's diets in New York City for heaven's sake! He like all liberals knows better and he wants to control your life via nany government. The default "gun control" position is probably not the answer. The issue of lunatics/ideologues/terrorists with guns is more complex than that.
10 years 3 months ago
Just a comment.  A few years ago when I was in Federal Law Enforcement and stationed in Detroit, I conducted a study on the correlation between firarms trafficking and homicide in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and Detroit, Michigan.  That year, Detroit had one of it's banner years, with a homicide rate in the range of 600 (primarily with firearms).  Windsor, Ontario had a homicide rate of "3".  None of which were by firearm.  Windsor has approximately 1/3 the population of Detroit.  Statistically, they should have had a rate somewhere in the range of 200 or so.  Or put another way, when you multiply (due to the population rate) the statistics for Ontario with Detroit this would have (on paper) increased Ontario's rate to 9.  Canada has very strict firearms laws.  I wonder if there is a correlation?

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