When the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the City of Seattle in a legal challenge to that city’s so-called “gun violence tax” Thursday, it brought a swift reaction from a leading national gun rights advocate whose group was one of the major plaintiffs in the case.
“Elections matter,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF).
The foundation, along with the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation, brought the legal action against Seattle’s tax in 2015. They were joined by two retial gun dealers and two private citizens.
“The high court’s decision to uphold what clearly appears to us as a violation of Washington’s 34-year-old State Preemption Act is proof positive that the court places political correctness above the rule of law,” Gottlieb said. “Gun owners must get more involved in Supreme Court races.”
In Washington, as in other states, state Supreme Court justices must run for election. In the Evergreen State, the high court is currently dominated by liberals.
Writing for the majority, Justice Debra L. Stephens noted that the gun tax ordinance “is constitutionally valid and not preempted” by the state’s 34-year-old preemption law. The ruling may be read here.
That preemption statute reads:
“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with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.”
“This isn’t just a loss for the rule of law, firearms dealers and gun owners living in Seattle,” Gottlieb said about the gun tax. “It’s a slap in the face to the Washington Legislature. In 1983, state lawmakers adopted the state’s preemption act, which squarely put all firearms regulation under authority of the Legislature. It is clear from this ruling that the Legislature will have to strengthen the preemption act to not only nullify what amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax on gun owners, but to also make sure this is not allowed to happen again.”
The Washington law has served as a model for other states’ preemption laws over the past three decades.
According to the Seattle Times, the original proponent of the “gun violence tax,” then Council President Tim Burgess, said the ruling is a “huge win” and he expressed hope that other cities in the state adopt similar taxes.
The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a Seattle-based gun prohibition lobbying group, is also applauding the ruling. In a statement, the Alliance said;
“In 2013, Seattle became the first city in the nation to conduct basic research on gun safety. The ruling today to uphold the tax means we can continue our legacy of leadership on this key issue. We now have designated funding for gun violence prevention research and programs for years to come.
“The gun lobby has tried – and failed – at every step of the process to use the courts to block this commonsense policy that will fund these critical investments. Today’s ruling is a clear message that their campaign to deny the public factual information about gun violence is not welcome in Washington State.”
However, thanks to a recent successful lawsuit against the city based on the Public Records Act, it was revealed that the city’s expectations, and Burgess’ predictions, about revenue from the tax are way off. Burgess had forecast revenue of between $300,000 and a half-million dollars. It now appears that the city may have taken in only about $100,000, and in the process driven out one gun store and possibly another.
Gottlieb said because of the ruling, there might be nothing to stop Seattle from raising the tax higher than its current $25 per gun and two- to five cents for each round of ammunition.
In its opinion, the court recognized that the plaintiffs had submitted evidence “that the city crafted the ordinance to avoid statutory preemption…which necessitates increased judicial scrutiny…” However, in a separate, concurring opinion, Justice Steven J. Gonzalez noted that “there is nothing wrong with knowing the law and acting within its bounds-indeed, it is required. (The plaintiffs) failed to show that the City’s tax label is a sham.”
But in her dissent, Justice Sheryl Gordon-McCloud observed that the state preemption act’s “plain language demonstrates clear legislative intent to preempt local ‘laws and ordinances’ that ‘relat[e] to firearms’ as broadly as possible. A city tax that singles out the sale of firearms and ammunition for disadvantageous treatment is therefore preempted.”
Attorney Steve Fogg, who represented the plaintiffs, noted in an email that the ruling could have long-term consequences when challenges to other city taxes, such as the proposed Seattle income tax on high income wage earners, or on soda, make it to the Supreme Court.