Seattle’s ‘gun tax’ punishes law-abiding citizens for criminal violence
The NRA, the Second Amendment Foundation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, along with two gun owners and two gun shops, sued the city of Seattle on Aug. 24 in King County Superior Court over its adoption of a so-called “gun violence tax,” a tax on firearms and ammunition designed to help offset the financial toll of gun violence.
The lawsuit calls the tax legally unenforceable because Washington State prohibits local governments from adopting laws related to firearms unless those local ordinances are specifically authorized by the state.
“The ordinance serves only as a piece of propaganda, because the ordinance’s mandates are legally unenforceable,” the lawsuit said. “The state of Washington has the exclusive right to regulate the sale of firearms in Washington, and cities may not enact local laws or regulations related to the sale of firearms.”
The Seattle City Council unanimously approved a sales tax of $25 on each firearm sold and a 5-cent tax on each round of ammunition (two cents for .22 caliber) sold. The council calls it the “Gun Violence Tax.” Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray signed the legislation, spurring the gun rights groups to file the legal challenge.
A companion measure also requires gun owners to file reports if their weapons are stolen or lost. The lawsuit does not challenge that reporting requirements.
City Attorney Pete Holmes maintains the tax falls squarely under Seattle’s taxing authority. He said the state Supreme Court has never interpreted whether the state’s general pre-emption of local firearms ordinances includes taxing gun or ammunition sales.
The lawsuit does not challenge Seattle’s measure on 2nd Amendment grounds, but pits the state’s 10th Amendment pre-emption purview against a municipality’s 14th amendment regulatory authority.
Among its justifications for adopting the tax, the Seattle City Council cited an Urban Institute study that claims gunshot wounds cost the American taxpayer half a billion dollars a year because most victims are either uninsured or on public insurance like Medicaid, which means that the hospital costs get passed on to the taxpayer.
The Urban Institute’s study was based on 2010 statistics, when hospital costs from firearm assaults totaled $669.2 million. About 73 percent of that amount came a combination of uninsured victims ($193.8 million) and those on government insurance ($294.2 million).
“The bulk of those costs come out of the public’s pockets,” said Sam Bieler, a criminologist, who co-authored the report for the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.
But those numbers also confirm an inequity in requiring those who legally own firearms and legally purchase ammunition to pay for injuries created by criminals, writes Frank Miniter on Forbes.com on Aug. 25.
Miniter said the legal battle in Seattle highlights two views of gun owners and gun crimes. In one view, the nation’s 100 million legal gun owners are “mostly law-abiding people whose constitutional right to bear arms can and does make America a safer and freer place,” while others, “such as those who voted for this Seattle tax, see gun ownership as a problem and gun owners as complicit, whether intentionally or not, in arming criminals.”
But there are clues in the statistics that indicate the Seattle “gun violence tax” is targeting the wrong people, Miniter writes.
According to a NSSF survey, 14 percent of urban households have at least one handgun, 31 percent of homes in the suburbs have at least one handgun, and 27 percent of homes in small towns have at least one handgun. Most gun violence is committed with handguns — 76.6 percent of murders with guns were committed with handguns between 2006-2011, according to FBI crime statistics, and most were committed in inner cities by criminals who did not legally possess the handgun.
“As you move from cities to the suburbs, the rate of handgun ownership doubles even though gun violence is primarily a problem of inner cities,” he writes, noting gun control proponents do not make the distinction between where these crimes occur and who is committing them, using these statistics “as an excuse to advocate nationwide bans on handguns and popular rifles.”
“Rather than spreading bad policy into areas with little gun violence, wouldn’t it be wiser to spread what’s working?” he asks. “Doesn’t the gun-violence rate in inner-cities morally rebuke the anti-gun policies? Seattle’s city council and mayor have bought into the idea that law-abiding gun owners are central to the problem and so should be forced to pay for gun violence.”
Miniter says what is unfolding in Seattle will have national ramifications. Two Democratic Congressmen — William Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) — have proposed the “Gun Violence Prevention and Safe Communities Act,” which would nearly double the 11 percent tax on handguns, while raising the tax on ammunition from 11 percent to 50 percent, to generate revenues for urban programs to reduce gun violence.
“Requiring gun owners to pay for gun violence, which more often occurs in places with the nation’s strictest gun laws, is obviously counterintuitive and unfair, Miniter writes. It is akin to taxing vehicle owners for the crimes of drunk drivers. Does punishing law-abiding behavior for the acts of criminals really make sense?”
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Walmart to stop selling AR-15s and similar semi-autos
Walmart said on Aug. 27 that it will stop selling “military-style” semi-automatic rifles, including AR-15s because of, according to Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg, “slumping demand.”
The move was not a surprise. Walmart CEO Douglas McMillon had indicated the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest seller of firearms and ammunition might do this in a June 23 interview with CNNMoney.
“Our focus in terms of firearms should be hunters and people who shoot sporting clays, and things like that,” McMillon told CNN. “So the types of rifles we sell, the types of ammunition we sell, should be curated for those things.”
When asked at the time if he would curtail sales of semi-automatic guns, McMillon told CNN, “Yes. We want to serve people who hunt and fish and we want to have a great sporting goods department.”
Despite Walmart’s claim that “slumping demand” for AR-15s and semi-autos fostered the decision, firearms sales have been strong this summer. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted 1.6 million background checks in July for all gun sales, not just semi-automatic weapons. That’s up from 1.4 million total checks in July of 2015.
While background checks aren’t a direct indicator of gun sales, since they are not required for some sales at trade shows and between individuals, they are a good barometer for the market.
AR-15s have been used in mass shootings including Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., and gun control advocates have long been fighting to restrict the sale of these weapons.
Walmart made the announcement on the same day that a man wielding a handgun murdered two television journalists on live television in Virginia, but the retailer did not mention the shootings.
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Virginia Governor calls for stricter gun laws after reporters murdered on TV
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for tighter gun laws in response to the deadly shooting of two Roanoke, Virginia-based TV journalists during a live broadcast on Aug. 27.
“There are too many guns in the hands of people that shouldn’t have guns,” McAuliffe said during an interview with WTOP TV. “There is too much gun violence in America,” he said, adding that he has long advocated for strengthening gun background checks and that it should be made a priority.
McAuliffe’s comments followed the shooting of 24-year-old WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward, who were killed during a live on-air interview in Smith Mountain, Va.
Footage of the murders, which quickly spread throughout social media, shows Parker interviewing a woman at Bridgewater Plaza about economic development and tourism — interrupted by gunfire from a lunatic later identified as former TV reporter Vester Lee Flanagan, who reportedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound later that day.
The shooting quickly captured national attention — with presidential candidates like Martin O’Malley, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz all sending their condolences to the victims’ families on social media.
McAuliffe is a strong gun control advocate. He previously served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, was co-chairman of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, and was chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. His first run for office was in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election, when he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
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IN THE COURTS
Missouri Supreme Court applies ‘Strict Scrutiny’ to ban felons from gun possession
The Missouri Supreme Court on Aug 26 issued an opinion in the case of Missouri v. Merritt, upholding the state’s ban against felons possessing firearms—affirming that the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms does not preclude state legislators from limiting the rights of convicted violent felons, or those duly adjudged mentally infirm by a court of competent jurisdiction, from possessing firearms.
The ruling short-circuited an attempt by gun control advocates to challenge Amendment 5, a 2014 law that strengthened Missouri’s Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, with 61 percent of state voters approving the measure. The amendment states that Missouri citizens have an “unalienable” right to keep and bear arms and that any “restriction on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Amendment 5 also states that, “nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted violent felons or those duly adjudged mentally infirm” from possessing a firearm.
In an Aug. 27 press release, the NRA said the ruling quashes gun control advocates fear-mongering and “dire predictions of the chaos the provision would supposedly unleash,” noting some knee-jerkers claimed the amendment could have “potentially deadly consequences” and might allow “some of the most dangerous individuals, including convicted drug dealers and gang members, to legally carry firearms.”
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety, was, as usual, among the chorus at the fiddlefest, incorrectly stating Amendment 5 will “call all state and local public safety laws into question, threatening even the most basic laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers.”
According to the Missouri Supreme Court’s Aug. 26 ruling, “The felon-in-possession law, which bans felons from possessing firearms, with no exceptions other than possessing an antique firearm, is sufficiently narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest of protecting the public from firearm-related crime. Therefore, it passes strict scrutiny.”
Marcus Merritt was federally convicted in 1986 of felony distribution of PCP. He was then charged in January 2013 with unlawfully possessing a revolver, a shotgun, and a .22 caliber rifle as a convicted felon.
He was subsequently convicted of violating a Missouri law which states, “A person commits the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm if such person knowingly has any firearm in his or her possession and … such person has been convicted of a felony under the laws of this state, or of a crime under the laws of any state or of the United States which, if committed within this state, would be a felony.”
In resolving the case, the court applied the prior version of Missouri’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms, because that was the one in effect at the time of Merritt’s possession of the firearm on November 7, 2012. Nevertheless, it also found that the use of the prior amendment was not relevant to the standard of review to be applied to Merritt’s constitutional claim.
This was because the Missouri Supreme Court had previously held that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McDonald v. Chicago characterizing the right to keep and bear arms as fundamental, cases that arose after McDonald under Missouri’s right to arms would be subject to strict scrutiny.
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