Tax bill on firearms and ammo headed to CA Governor Newsom's desk

Justicia by Velizar Ivanov is licensed under Unsplash
SACRAMENTO, CA – According to a report from the Associated Press (AP), on Thursday, September 7th, California Democrat lawmakers voted to raise taxes on guns and ammunition.

Assembly Bill 28 is headed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk and if signed, an 11 percent tax from the sales of firearms, firearm precursor parts and ammunition would be imposed on dealers and manufacturers beginning July 1, 2024.

Money received from the taxes will reportedly be used to fund various "gun violence" prevention, education, research and investigation programs.

The federal government already taxes the sale of guns and ammunition nationwide. The 11 percent proposed tax in California matches the highest tax imposed by the federal government on guns.

The bill was introduced by Democrat Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel of District 46; the district that represents part of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In a statement, Gabriel said, “We’ve passed a lot of good gun safety laws. The data shows that we have a lower gun death rate here in California than we do in other states. But this was one of te big things that was still out there.”

According to CalMatters, for nearly a decade, lawmakers have unsuccessfully pursued sales or excise taxes on guns and ammunition and failed a half of dozen times. Some of those never even got a hearing.

Democrats narrowly approved the Assembly Bill 28 over the objections of Republicans, who said businesses are going to pass the cost onto customers, which is an unfair burden for sports shooters and hunters who frequently buy ammunition.

Newsom has until October 14th to decide whether he plans to sign the bill into law. Newsom has opposed some high-profile tax increase proposals over the years, but he is also a big proponent of improving gun safety.

A spokesperson for Newsom said that the governor would “evaluate the bill on its merits.” The tax will not apply to police officers and it will not apply to businesses with sales of less than $5,000 over a three-month period.

Some lawmakers questioned the purpose of raising taxes on guns in a state that already has one of the lowest gun death rates in the country. Data from 2021 shows that California ranks 43rd out of 50 states with nine deaths for every 100,000 people.

Gabriel said that his intent is not to “discourage” people from buying guns, but to provide a stable source of funding for gun violence programs.

Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, opposes the tax. He said in a statement, “It’s a poll tax. It’s a tax on exercising a constitutional right. We’re going to have to file a lawsuit to challenge it.”

A legislative analysis of the California proposal said it is an ‘open question” whether a lawsuit challenging the tax would be successful.

In the neighboring state of Washington, a 2017 opinion from the Washington State Supreme Court upheld Seattle’s tax on gun and ammunition sales. According to the Seattle Times, the justices ruled 8-1 to affirm the previous decision by King County Superior Court, which sided with the city.

Back in 2015, the City Council passed a law that imposes the tax of $25 per firearm and two or five cents per round of ammunition.

Opponents of the law filed a lawsuit stating that the tax violates a Washington law that bans cities from regulating firearms, reserving that authority for the state. However, Seattle claimed that the tax is legal before taxation is different from regulation.

The majority opinion concluded in part that the city’s ordinance does impose a tax, rather than a regulation, on firearms because “it’s primary purpose is to raise revenue for the public benefit.”

Other cities in the state of Washington seem to be following suit. In June 2023, the HeraldNet reported that an ammunition and firearm tax in Everett may be modeled after those already implemented in Seattle and Tacoma. Tacoma’s tax took effect in 2021.

Everett’s tax would be similar to both, with an initial idea of taxing $30 per firearm, 3 cents per round of .22-caliber or smaller and 5 cents per round for other ammunition sold at retail.

As with California, money collected from the tax would be out into a fund dedicated for research, firearm violence prevention and youth education.
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