Merry Christmas: Judge Rules In Favor Of Seattle’s Gun Tax

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Dec 25, 2015 3:30 PM
Merry Christmas: Judge Rules In Favor Of Seattle’s Gun Tax

In Seattle, exercising your Second Amendment rights is now a taxable activity. Recently, a judge ruled that the city's ordinance that adds a $25 tax on firearms sold within the city limits, plus an additional two to five cent fee on every round of ammunition, fell within the council's taxing authority. The law goes into effect next year (via CBS News):

King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson dismissed arguments that Seattle's tax, adopted last summer, exceeded the city's authority under state law.

The measure -- one of only a few of its kind in the nation -- adds $25 to the price of each firearm sold in the city, plus 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition, depending on the type.

CBS affiliate KIRO reported the City Budget Office estimates the tax will raise between $300,000 and $500,000 a year to be used for gun violence research and prevention programs when it takes effect in January.

"The NRA and its allies always oppose these common sense steps to shine light on the gun violence epidemic," said City Council President Tim Burgess, who sponsored the law. "Judge Robinson saw through the NRA's distorted efforts to put gun industry profits ahead of public safety."

The NRA did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment, but another plaintiff, the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, promised an immediate appeal. The groups have argued state law puts responsibility for regulating firearms solely in the hands of the Legislature, not local governments.

"It is unconscionable for Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council to codify what amounts to social bigotry against firearms retailers and their customers," Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb said in a written statement.

But the judge found the measure falls within the city's taxing authority and is not an impermissible regulation.

Of course, liberals think taxes are “common sense steps” to solve any social ill. Also, there is no gun violence epidemic. Violent crime remains low, gun murders have dropped 3.9 percent from last year, and overall gun deaths have dropped 30 percent since 1993.

At the same time, this isn’t the first questionable bill regarding Second Amendment rights emanating from Washington State. In February of 2013, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was then serving in the state senate and introduced a bill that would ban assault rifles. But it included a very controversial provision that would’ve allowed law enforcement to search one’s home once a year "to ensure compliance." Even Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat found this troubling. The bill was subsequently killed, and Murray was elected mayor of Seattle in November of that year (via Seattle Times 2/13):

Lance Palmer, a Seattle trial lawyer and self-described liberal who brought the troubling Senate Bill 5737 to my attention. It’s the long-awaited assault-weapons ban, introduced last week by three Seattle Democrats.

[…]

Responding to the Newtown school massacre, the bill would ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons that use detachable ammunition magazines. Clips that contain more than 10 rounds would be illegal.

But then, with respect to the thousands of weapons like that already owned by Washington residents, the bill says this:

“In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing shall … safely and securely store the assault weapon. The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection.”

Even the bill’s co-sponsors, including then-Sen. Murray, admitted that this provision was "a mistake," and that it was "probably unconstitutional":

“I’m a liberal Democrat — I’ve voted for only one Republican in my life,” Palmer told me. “But now I understand why my right-wing opponents worry about having to fight a government takeover.”

He added: “It’s exactly this sort of thing that drives people into the arms of the NRA.”

I have been blasting the NRA for its paranoia in the gun-control debate. But Palmer is right — you can’t fully blame them, when cops going door-to-door shows up in legislation.

I spoke to two of the sponsors. One, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, a lawyer who typically is hyper-attuned to civil-liberties issues, said he did not know the bill authorized police searches because he had not read it closely before signing on.

“I made a mistake,” Kline said. “I frankly should have vetted this more closely.”

That lawmakers sponsor bills they haven’t read is common. Still, it’s disappointing on one of this political magnitude. Not counting a long table, it’s only an eight-page bill.

The prime sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, also condemned the search provision in his own bill, after I asked him about it. He said Palmer is right that it’s probably unconstitutional.

“I have to admit that shouldn’t be in there,” Murray said.

So, in a sense, this gun tax is bad, but it could’ve been a lot worse. The state also passed a universal background check law–initiative 597–last year. CBS News added that gun store owners might consider leaving the city, as these taxes would kill future sales. 

So, when it comes to the Second Amendment, the city council of Seattle seems to be trying to tax it out of existence.