In the wake of the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary school shoot­ings of Decem­ber 14th, many are call­ing for reform of gun con­trol laws, stronger gun con­trol laws, a re-intro­duc­tion of the assault weapons ban, and so forth.

These are wor­thy con­ver­sa­tions that should be had.

To them I would add anoth­er idea.

On Sat­ur­day, author Mau­reen John­son tweet­ed:

@maureenjohnson: Just a thought about teachers/school staff: I think a LOT of them would throw them­selves in the line of fire to save children.

I don’t doubt for a sec­ond she’s right. Do you? Con­trast that with what we pay to teach­ers for doing their job.

As a soci­ety, we have appar­ent­ly decid­ed that fos­ter­ing the future pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of future gen­er­a­tions is worth about $40,000 per year. I think that’s insult­ing­ly low, but that’s the sit­u­a­tion and I’m not here to take on the ques­tion of what qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion is real­ly worth.

But I also can’t help notic­ing that teacher con­tracts aren’t ever nego­ti­at­ed with the explic­it recog­ni­tion that teach­ers may at times be asked to lay down their lives for our chil­dren. At least, I have nev­er once heard of that hap­pen­ing. (If you have, leave a com­ment. I’d love to hear about it and what the out­come was.)

Yet clear­ly, as Columbine, Vir­ginia Tech, and Sandy Hook now show, teach­ers clear­ly deserve haz­ard pay.

I don’t mean that face­tious­ly at all. These are peo­ple who, although that isn’t what they were trained for at all, do at times make the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice for the sake of oth­er people’s children.

How can you put a price on that?

Set­ting sen­ti­ment aside, it’s entire­ly pos­si­ble to put a price on that. The only ques­tion is what’s that price, and how would we pay for it?

How much?

The ques­tion is essen­tial­ly “how much do you have to pay some­one to do a job that may get them killed?” For­tu­nate­ly, we have a good point of com­par­i­son: defense con­trac­tors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accord­ing to one study com­mis­sioned by the Aero­space Indus­tries Asso­ci­a­tion, the answer is about $80,000 per year.

Fig­ures vary—some less well sourced num­bers I found ranged as high as $100k for truck drivers—but $80k is a rea­son­able val­ue for this analy­sis. As a rough cal­cu­la­tion, teach­ers there­fore deserve an addi­tion­al forty grand in haz­ard pay.

Fig­ures from the 2000 cen­sus indi­cate there were 6.2 mil­lion teach­ers in the Unit­ed States. Mul­ti­ply by $40,000, and that’s two hun­dred and forty-eight bil­lion dol­lars. Almost a quar­ter of a tril­lion dol­lars. Fair enough.

How would we pay for it?

Well, since the haz­ard to teach­ers seems to come pri­mar­i­ly from guns, let’s ask the gun-sec­tor of the econ­o­my to pay for it.

The ratio­nale for this is sim­ple. Firearms, as a prod­uct cat­e­go­ry, induce a degree of harm on soci­ety as a whole. As we saw in Con­necti­cut, at times that harm is mon­strous. Yet the gun sec­tor is not required to make good on that harm in any way. The fact that the gun sec­tor is per­mit­ted to exter­nal­ize the true costs in blood and tears of their prod­ucts rep­re­sents an almost a quar­ter-tril­lion dol­lar annu­al sub­sidy, result­ing in gun prices that are far, far low­er than their true eco­nom­ic cost.

How much is that per gun? Well, exact annu­al gun sales fig­ures are hard to come by. The FBI doesn’t track gun pur­chas­es direct­ly, but only back­ground checks for gun pur­chas­es. Of those, there have been 16.8 mil­lion so far in 2012. Grant­ed, this is an imper­fect metric–not all back­ground checks result in an even­tu­al pur­chase, and con­verse­ly, one buy­er can pur­chase mul­ti­ple guns. Search­ing for “total U.S. gun sales” gives fig­ures any­where from 4.7 mil­lion in 2006, to 14 mil­lion in 2009, to 10 mil­lion in 2011, from a vari­ety of sources.

Since there’s no way to count, we have to esti­mate. Giv­en the uncer­tain­ty in the avail­able fig­ures, and that the lat­ter num­ber is from the Nation­al Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion (a group who, one pre­sumes, has some informed basis for that fig­ure), let’s go with 10 mil­lion. From there, the math is trivial.

$24,800 per gun

So that’s my mod­est pro­pos­al: 248 bil­lion divid­ed by 10 mil­lion. To elim­i­nate this gun industry’s quar­ter-tril­lion dol­lar sub­sidy; to stop the de fac­to prac­tice of allow­ing the gun indus­try to exter­nal­ize the true costs it impos­es on soci­ety; to give teach­ers the haz­ard pay they so rich­ly deserve for accept­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ty of lay­ing down their lives for our chil­dren, all we have to do is insti­tute a $24,800 fee on each and every gun sale in America.

It’s sim­ple, straight­for­ward, and fair. It is quite lit­er­al­ly noth­ing more than ask­ing those who would buy guns to pay the true cost of them.

If you dis­agree, if you think that’s too much to ask, that’s fine. It’s a free coun­try. Just answer me this: whose lives are you say­ing aren’t worth it?

Teach­ers’ or children’s?

About the author

Once a regular contributor to The Advocate, I only now post very irregularly. Any more, it takes a lot for me to get up the gumption to say something.

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