The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) launched another legal joust Wednesday when it sued the City of Seattle, alleging a violation of the state Public Records Act (PRA).
City officials have refused to release tax revenue information related to monies it has collected from firearms retailers under the city’s controversial “gun violence tax” that was hastily adopted last year.
The complaint stems from a PRA request earlier this year by the senior editor of TheGunMag.com (TGM), a print and online monthly magazine owned and operated by the foundation. He is also a plaintiff in the case.
In April, TGM filed a public records request, seeking information about the first-quarter revenue from the gun tax. That tax is being challenged in court by SAF, the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation, along with two local retail gun shops. They contend that the gun tax is really a gun control effort in disguise in order to get around Washington State’s 33-year-old state preemption law.
When the gun tax lawsuit was filed last year, the plaintiffs in that case supported their arguments with copies of e-mails obtained under the PRA that strongly suggested the city was looking for a way around the law. Seattle has long opposed the state’s preemption statute, which dates back to 1983.
“When Seattle hastily adopted this tax last year,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb, “then-Council President Tim Burgess sold it as a means of raking in between $300,000 and $500,000 annually by taxing the sale of firearms and ammunition. But now the city is refusing to turn over revenue information on the flimsy grounds that it may violate the privacy of retail gun dealers in the city.”
Gottlieb also serves as TGM publisher. The magazine covers a variety of firearms-related news ranging from politics to firearms and equipment reviews. It is based in Buffalo, N.Y. with a Western Bureau at SAF’s headquarters in Bellevue, just across Lake Washington from Seattle. TGM replaced Gun Week about four years ago as SAF’s flagship publication.
The gun violence tax charges $25 on the sale of each firearm, plus five cents per round of centerfire ammunition and two cents per round of rimfire ammunition. It is similar in concept to a tax adopted in Cook County, Illinois. The revenue will ostensibly to provide funding for intervention and gun violence education efforts.
When the city refused to divulge its first-quarter gun tax revenue, citing individual taxpayer confidentiality concerns, the PRA request was modified “to accommodate the city’s concerns about taxpayer privacy,” according to a Thursday morning SAF news release.
Julie Moore, communications director for the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services, responded in a July 14 e-mail to Workman that she had been “communicating with reporters on this same topic.”
The Seattle Times had earlier reported that the Outdoor Emporium, one of the two retailers involved in the gun tax lawsuit, had “paid about $21,000 in first-quarter gun and ammo taxes according to owner Mike Coombs.
In that e-mail to Workman, Moore explained, “The City’s position is we will not release any information about taxes collected/reported for the firearms and ammunition tax at this time due to the limited amount of information received to date and legal requirements for protecting taxpayer confidentiality.”
She also asserted that “Taxpayer information is exempt from public inspection” under the state law.
Workman maintains that “the citizens of Seattle and every gun owner in the state deserve to know whether the city’s revenue prediction was even remotely accurate, or way off base.”
“The city simply cannot be allowed to adopt a tax on the exercise of a constitutional right and then stonewall the public and the press about that,” Gottlieb said.
The initial gun tax lawsuit was rejected in King County Superior Court, but SAF, NRA and NSSF appealed. Arguments in that case were originally scheduled later this month in Division I of the State Court of Appeals, but were moved back to November.
SAF is represented by Seattle attorneys Steven Fogg and David Edwards with Corr, Cronin, Michelson, Baumgardner, Fogg & Moore. Fogg and Edwards also represent SAF, NRA and NSSF in their challenge of the Seattle gun tax. The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court.