That Seattle “gun violence tax” didn’t really pan out as predicted
It’s been more than a year since we looked at Seattle’s so-called “gun violence tax.” That ill conceived idea imposed a tax on all firearms and ammunition sold in the city with the proceeds ostensibly being earmarked for gun violence studies. The optimistic predictions of the authors of the tax legislation indicated that the city would take in anywhere from $300K to a half million dollars per year from this action. So how did that work out? As the NRA Institute for Legislative Action reports this week… not very well at all.
On March 16, 2017, the Seattle Times reported that Seattle city officials were reluctant to release data on the revenue generated by the city’s firearms and ammunition tax, citing taxpayer confidentiality concerns. Less than a week later, we now know the more likely reason that Seattle failed to disclose this tax revenue; because the money raised fell woefully short of the figure projected by supporters of the tax…
In advocating for the tax, Burgess and other supporters of the legislation repeatedly cited figures from the City Budget Office that claimed the tax would raise between $300,000 and $500,000 a year. In an email to the Times this week, Burgess confessed, “During its first year, the firearms and ammunition tax payments received by the City were less than $200,000.” It is not clear how much less than $200,000 the city collected.
When you hear a politician tossing around a phrase such as, “less than $200,000” rather than providing a specific figure, you can rest assured that it’s probably considerably less. In response to questions from the Seattle Times, City Council member Tim Burgess (the guy who cooked up this idea) was claiming that “approximately” fifteen stores were collecting this tax in 2016. Even if we were being generous and saying that the total tax collected was anywhere close to $200K, that works out to roughly $13,000 per store. Still sounds pretty far on the high side to me. When you jack up the cost of goods inside of the city to that extent and it’s a relatively short drive to find someplace cheaper, that’s what people will do.
But that’s undoubtedly one of the motivations of Burgess in the first place. This was never about gun violence studies. It was a targeted tax designed to make it more expensive to be a gun owner and shooter in Seattle. That, in turn, would make it less profitable to operate a gun shop there, an idea which wasn’t going to upset the Democrats on the council at all. And that’s precisely the reason that the tax legislation is currently being challenged in the state supreme court and may wind up going all the way to SCOTUS. Designing a tax to specifically go after one group of people or businesses should never be allowed and, as the NRA-ILA points out, the Supreme Court has previously ruled that governments can not attack constitutionally-protected conduct through taxation. Because of that, even the diminished amount of money which Seattle has managed to collect isn’t going to their “gun violence study” because it’s held up while the court challenge plays out. Instead, the city has had to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars out of its general fund.
But hey, Seattle. You keep right on electing these same groups of gun grabbers. It seems to be working out fabulously for you.