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Seattle Gun "Tax" FAQ

The ruling on our legal challenge to Seattle Gun and Ammunition "Tax" ordinance is expected today. We have been fielding requests from the press for reaction to the possible outcomes. To make things easier, we have put a quick FAQ on the subject.

Q: What is Seattle Gun "Tax"?

A: The "tax" is a measure by Seattle City Council to levy a fee on every sale of firearm ($25) and every round of ammunition ($0.02 per round for calibers 22 and below, $0.05 per round for calibers above 22) sold in Seattle.

When would this "tax" go into effect?

January 1, 2016 - if the court does not throw it out or issue a temporary injunction.

Is this legal?

No. It fails on two counts.

If this were a tax, it would fail because there is a state-mandated maximum that can be collected on retail sales, and certain rules that municipalities have to comply with (for example, it needs to be uniformly applied on all sales, not just a particular product). Seattle is already at the maximum allowed rate (RCW 35.21.710).

Of course, this is not a tax. This is a regulatory fee. The difference between a tax and a regulatory fee is that a tax is collected broadly, and for broad public benefit. A regulatory fee is collected narrowly, from a particular industry, to either provide services for this industry, or address the negative effects caused by this industry.

Obviously, Seattle Gun "Tax" falls squarely under the definition of the regulatory fee - and is thus prohibited by WA State Preemption Clause (9.41.290).

More here.

How much money is this supposed to generate?

Seattle City Council claims that the tax will produce $300000-$500000 revenue. They arrived at this number by computing the average number of background checks per dealer in the state and multiplying it by the number of active FFL licenses in Seattle.

This "methodology" is similar to computing the average income in a room of 100 people, one of whom is Bill Gates, and concluding that an average person in the room makes $10 million dollars a year.

In actual fact, most of Seattle FFLs do not have retail counters, and all of us are tiny compared to gun stores outside Seattle such as Cabelas, Bass Shop Pro, and the like.

See more here.

How much revenue will be generated if this fee goes into effect?

This fee will reduce the City revenue stream, not increase it.

Our most popular ammunition sells for $4 (22lr) and $11 (9mm) per 50 round box. The tax would amount to roughly 25%, and will vastly exceed the profit which we derive from selling it. Averaged over the entire inventory that we sell, this fee eliminates all the profit we are making, and then some.

Because of this, gun stores in Seattle will be forced to close or move, which will eliminate the sales tax revenue collected by the City from these businesses.

What are your plans if the fee goes into effect?

As we pointed out above, it is economically infeasible to run a gun store in Seattle with this fee in place.

If the courts do not act in time, on January 1st we will cease selling firearms and ammunition in our store. We will continue processing firearms transfers from the Internet, as well as private transfers, and sell cleaning and reloading equipment.

We are in the process of licensing a location just outside the city. This process can take 30-90 days. When it completes, we will move the store to the new location.

Can you simply pass the cost to your customers?

No. We compete with the Internet and the gun stores just outside Seattle. Our prices are the maximum we can charge, while remaining competitive.

This fee is not collected on purchases over the Internet or outside the city, so if we were to raise our prices, the customers would simply buy firearms and ammunition from elsewhere.

Seattle City Council members claim that access to firearms is "too easy". Will this tax make it harder?

No. Majority of firearms and ammunition is already purchased outside Seattle. Here is an incomplete list of gun stores just a couple of miles out of town:

  • Adventure Sports
  • Lynnwood Guns
  • Great American Guns
  • Top Guns
  • Joe's Guns
  • D.J's
  • AMS Guns
  • Wade's
  • West Coast Armory
  • Pinto's
  • CAR Firearms
  • Discount Gun Sales

There are only 2 stores in Seattle which are similar to the size of the stores listed above.

Having to drive a couple miles more to get a gun or having to buy one on the Internet will not affect the availability of firearms or ammunition in Seattle.

Are we in the middle of gun violence epidemic?

No. The number of homicides in Seattle was remarkably stable over the years.

2015 - through October only22

Because of increase in population size, the rate has actually been declining.

More here.

Is an easy access to guns in the US responsible for the much higher homicide rates, compared to the western world?

There are many other things that are unique to the US in additional to firearms ownership rates. In particular, US has the highest levels of inequality compare to the rest of the developed countries. As it happens, homicide rates correlate much better with the inequality measure (GINI coefficient) than with the gun ownership rates.

More here.

Obviously, if guns are available, they will be more likely to be used in committing a murder. However, if you take them away, it is entirely possible that people will switch to a different tool.

For example, when firearms were confiscated in Australia, the rate of gun homicides plummeted, but the overall homicide rate remained remarkably stable.

More here.

The fee is purportedly designed to fund research because "NRA blocked the funding" at the federal level. Why?

Gun research can most definitely be done at the federal level. And in fact, after Sandy Hook President Obama have authorized $10 million dollars to research gun violence. The results of this research largely confirmed what the gun community was saying all along - that currently proposed gun control legislation is ineffective and will have no impact on violence.

More here.

Why is NRA blocking all common sense gun control initiatives?

Because they greatly inconvenience gun owners while producing no positive impact on violence.

For example, while Assault Weapons Ban was in effect, it produced no statistically detectable effect on crime, which is understandable because it (a) restricts weapons which criminals don't use, and (b) regulates the appearance, not lethality, of these weapons.

You can also find a very concise and easy to understand backgrounder on AWB here.

This gun tax is just another example of legislation which arbitrarily inconveniences gun owners, while having no impact on violence.

What is the real purpose behind gun regulation?

As any red meat issue, gun regulation serves to distract population from real issues. Gun regulation to the left is what gay marriage, climate change, and evolution is to the right - a partisan issue which generates passion (and votes), yet produces no measurable positive impact.

In particular, Seattle has many real issues which resulted from the explosive, yet poorly managed growth - housing prices, traffic, property crime, police brutality, and more. Gun control provides Seattle politicians with an opportunity to appear caring while not rocking the boat so much that it would impact their donors in real estate business.