Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tacoma Gun Tax Pass City Council Unanimously on 12 November

On 12 November, 2019, the Tacoma City Council unanimously passed its controversial tax on guns and ammunition. The tax is based on a similar tax in Seattle.  The vote was unanimous, 8-0. 112 people were reported to have spoken on the issue.

To an ordinary reader, the tax would seem to violate the Washington State preemption law. The Washington Supreme Court held differently in 2017. It voted that a tax was not a regulation. One judge dissented, writing it was obvious the tax was aimed specifically at firearms. From the opinion:
That different inquiry centers on the language of the preemption statute itself. Here, RCW 9.41.290 uses deliberately broad language that clearly encompasses both regulations and "laws and ordinances" if they have any relationship to "the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof." RCW 9.41.290. Seattle Ordinance 124833 has a very close relationship with the "purchase, sale, acquisition, [and] transfer" of firearms--it targets them! Thus, while a uniform local tax that incidentally hits on sales of this product (while taxing various and sundry products) might not have a sufficient relationship with firearms to suffer preemption, this ordinance-which targets only firearms-certainly does. I therefore respectfully dissent.

The Tacoma tax is scheduled to go into effect on 1 July, 2019. It will be $25 per firearm sold, 2 cents per cartridge of .22 caliber or less, and 5 cents for each larger cartridges.

Seattle's tax has had expected results.  Dedicated gun shops have been driven from the city.  According to preciseshooter.com:
Prioir (sic) to this "tax" being implemented, Seattle had only two stores that specialized in selling guns - and just three sizeable gun operations including Outdoors Emporium, which was a general purpose sporting goods store with a large gun counter. Since the "tax" was implemented, both gun stores - including Precise Shooter - moved out of town, because it was financially impossible to compete with suburban gun stores who do not have to collect this "tax".
Seattle claimed the tax would generate $300,000 to $500,000. The City refused to publish the amount of tax generated until forced to do so by lawsuit. The tax generated just under 104,000 in 2016, and just over $93,000 in 2017.  Almost certainly, the City lost more than that amount in lost sales tax revenue, as gun owners purchased guns and ammunition outside of city limits. Ammunition is available through mail order sales.

The tax is obviously not about revenue. It is about making a moral statement.  In the mind of the proponents, guns cause violence. Guns are bad. Gun shops are bad. We don't want your kind around here.

It is not a logical argument. Only a tiny percentage of guns are used in crime every year, about .075%. Even draconian restrictions on gun ownership do not make a difference in homicide levels.

The idea that guns cause violence is simple, seductive, and false.

Tacoma has much more to lose than Seattle. Seattle's two dedicated gun shops moved to the suburbs. Seattle lost some tax revenue. Seattle gun owners were inconvenienced.

Tacoma has a couple of guns shops. They will likely move. It is also home to Aero Precision, a successful and growing firearms manufacturer. Aero Precision is home to about 400 jobs, according to Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Aero Precision was awarded the large manufacturing firm Gold Award for Washington State in 2017.

Aero Precision's Chief Executive Officer, Scott Dover, says the tax will make it difficult for them to be competitive, according to Fox News. It is unknown if Aero Precision will stay in Tacoma or move.  Moving is expensive. One option might be for Aero Precision to move its assembly plant, or shipping operations, outside the City, thus making its sales outside the city.

It seems unlikely the City could tax sales made outside the City limits. In a state where a tax on guns and ammunition is not considered to be a law or ordinance affecting gun sales, a court might rule otherwise.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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