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Will Seattle Tax Guns, Ammo?


 The Seattle City Council is consider a tax on ammunition and guns.

Update, 8.13.2015: The Seattle City Council has passed gun violence tax legislation and mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns legislation. The tax is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2016, although that could be delayed if gun-rights groups sue the city, as expected. 

Some states, like Louisiana and Mississippi, provide sales tax holidays for firearms, ammunition, and related items. The Texas Senate has approved a similar tax-free period, although it is unlikely to become law this session. In Michigan, lawmakers may exempt gun safety devices rather than guns.

Then there’s Missouri, where legislation has been introduced that would levy a special 1% sales tax on handguns and ammunition to raise revenue for police body cameras. And there’s Seattle, Washington, where the City Council is currently considering a proposal that would create a new firearms and ammunition tax.

According to the City Council website, the bill “would establish a gun violence tax on the sellers of firearms and ammunition in Seattle.” The tax being proposed is $25 per firearm sold at retail and $0.05 per round of ammunition. Revenue, which could be as much as $300,000 to $500,000 annually, would fund research and prevention programs.

Another bill seeks to keep better track of guns already out in the community. It “would require mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms to the Seattle Police Department.”

The full text of both bills is available here.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has voiced his approval:

“...I want to thank Councilmember Burgess for his leadership. This proposal provides critical funding for gun violence research and prevention. We will have more resources to support youth education and other efforts that we know help prevent guns violence in our streets. For too long, we have had insufficient research and data on gun violence in Seattle to help guide our response.

“We know the people of Seattle demand action on this issue, not more talk....”

Council President Tim Burgess, who introduced both bills, expects the city to be sued under the state’s pre-emption statute if one or both of them is enacted. And indeed, Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, is already referencing that statue. His organization fought and defeated a 2010 measure banning guns in Seattle parks.

Still, Burgess anticipates both bills “would hold up in court.” As he told the Seattle Times, “The pre-emption statute does not appear to cover taxation. It covers regulation and possession and sales, but we’re not doing anything in those categories.” And City Attorney Pete Holmes says the city is “prepared to defend the bills.”

The freedom to have—and act on—such differing philosophies about guns and taxation is one of the best aspects of this country. Yet for manufacturers and sellers of guns, ammunition, and related devices, these differences make tax compliance extra challenging.

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photo credit: Seattle Skyline via photopin (license)


Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.