Appeals court to hear arguments in Seattle ‘gun violence tax’ challenge

The so-called “gun violence tax” in Seattle is being challenged by three gun organizations under the state preemption statute in Washington. [Dave Workman photo]
Attorneys representing the nation’s leading gun rights organizations will be arguing their challenge to the City of Seattle’s so-called “gun violence tax” before a three-judge panel of the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division One, on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

It’s the second go-round for the Second Amendment Foundation, National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation, and two Seattle firearms retailers. They filed suit against the city’s gun tax last year in King County Superior Court, but lost at the trial level.

At stake is the state’s preemption statute, which Seattle’s anti-gun establishment has been hoping to erode for several years. Adopted in 1983 and amended two years later, the state preemption law became a model for similar statutes in other states. The law prevents cities, counties and towns from adopting their own gun control regulations, and places sole authority for that in the hands of the Legislature. Here’s what the law says:

“The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter. Such local ordinances shall have the same penalty as provided for by state law. Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.”

The city argues that it can charge a $25 tax on the sale of every firearm, plus a nickel per round of centerfire ammunition and two cents per round for rimfire cartridges.

The money is supposed to be used for education and violence prevention efforts. When it was pushed by City Council President Tim Burgess in the summer of 2015, he predicted the tax could bring in between $300,000 and $500,000.

However, when requests to the city for actual revenue collections for the first quarter of 2016 were made under the Public Records Act, the city declined to release the information. The city cited privacy rights of the small number of businesses that would pay the tax.

One of the two gun stores that are plaintiffs in the case has moved operations outside the city.

The gun tax is modeled after a similar tax passed in Cook County, Illinois three years ago. That tax was adopted also to reduce “gun violence.” But considering the current number of murders in Chicago, that tax has been a failure, say critics.


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