It’s thought of as the unofficial shooting range of Mono County.
From Mammoth, you drive northbound a ways on the highway, passing the territories marked by NO SHOOTING ZONE signs on the right hand side—forbade as such in a 2011 county ordinance, and aptly guarded by an unarmed cutout of Smokey the Bear.
The ramp lets out onto the older iteration of Highway 395. From there, you can follow the power line down on a smaller, rough-hewn road another half mile or so.
The shooting range isn’t marked. It begins where the pavement stops. There is no control booth nor designated firing lanes. It is, quite literally, free range—a network of dirt road capillaries, in which recreational shooting can take place.
On a Tuesday afternoon, there was nary a gunman to be seen. It would seem the range is something of a hidden gem. There was some organic refuse from targets aimed at and obliterated—shards of watermelon rind and rotting cantaloupe pulp. But besides that, not a shell casing was forgotten by he who’d seen it last. Be still my beating Massachusetts-native heart. Even I was charmed.
It’s a scene beguiling, especially within the context of the past week in the California legislature. Assembly Bill 28, fronted by Woodland Hills Democrat, Jesse Gabriel, has made its way to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) after years of failed efforts. If passed, the bill would impose an excise tax of 11% on the sale of guns and ammunition. Newsom’s signature has an October 14 deadline.
Keep in mind, an excise tax is different from the permit fees and background check-associated costs already required to purchase and own a firearm. As it stands, the federal government levies an excise tax of 10-11% on guns and bullets. If the bill goes through, California will be the first state to impose its own tax on top of the existing federal tax—the proceeds (an estimated $159 million, yearly) of which will fund school security and gun-violence prevention initiatives.
“It’s shameful that gun manufacturers are reaping record profits at the same time that gun violence has become the leading cause of death for kids in the United States,” said Assemblymember Gabriel on the motive of the bill.
But because taxes and gun reform legislation ring like a Pavlovian bell in the ears of conservatives, there has been much concern from the right side of the aisle regarding the infringement of Second Amendment Rights. It’s important to note, however, that the levying of a tax does not prohibit the right to bear arms. The tax, as a percentage of a bullet’s ticket price, does not make purchasing that bullet necessarily prohibitive—just more expensive to fire.
But a tax increase—any tax increase—is controversial.
Enter economist Arthur Pigou’s school of thought. Pigouvian taxes, named in his honor, are those taxes on market activity that produce negative externalities. It’s a fancy way of saying “punish people who make socially-costly decisions.” Sin taxes on cigarettes and the 20 extra cents you pay to take your groceries home in a plastic bag obey Pigou’s principles.
What all of this comes down to is deploying incentives, rather than restrictions, to choke back gun violence. But even that is a subjective premise—Are taxes restrictive in that they hamper my fiscal freedom in buying what they want? Or do they incentivize me to put that money back in my pocket, and use it to make more socially-conscious decisions? And who’s to say what’s socially conscious? And on, and on, and on.
The gun range in June Lake follows this line of thinking. When I pass the NO SHOOTING ZONE on the highway, I can choose to think of that as a restrictive ordinance issued by my local government, or as a piece of legislation that incentivizes all members of society to use public lands, responsibly. One family can enjoy their Second Amendment Rights on an afternoon at the shooting range, a few miles down the road from a family having a picnic, absent the fear of a stray bullet. Neither behavior is prohibited, so long as both families pay attention to a few rules.
Call it what you want—incentives or restrictions—those instruments of governance that encourage socially-conscious behavior are not prohibitive. We can do what we want in the name of defending our own constitutional rights, but we may have to reach into our pockets when we encroach on another’s.
Or not. We’ll see what happens, come October 14.