Such a tax might also exert at least some economic pressure on manufacturers to market especially lethal guns less aggressively, or to implement safer gun technologies, like “smart guns” that could be used only by the registered owner. Right now, they have no such incentive — they’re immune from most lawsuits, and guns are expressly exempt from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is supposed to protect the public from unreasonable risks from consumer products. (Thus, the commission can ban lawn darts or cork guns, but not real firearms.)

Since safer guns would mean fewer compensable injuries or deaths, the tax should be adjustable, rising when injuries and deaths increase, and falling when they decrease. The tax rate could also be adjusted to reflect the relative lethality of guns. Those guns that are most often used to kill or maim the largest number of people could be taxed at a higher rate, while guns used primarily for hunting or sport that are much less often involved in fatalities or injuries would be taxed at a lower rate.

Gun makers know that their products are lethal, and sometimes used illegally. They know that some of their dealers’ sales practices contribute to guns’ falling into criminal hands. They know that each year a significant number of innocent people will be killed or maimed by the use of guns. But quite often, the shooters themselves cannot be held fully or even partially accountable, financially, because they are unknown, destitute or dead.