The National Rifle Association and other groups are suing Seattle in an attempt to block a new tax on gun and ammo sales.
Three gun-rights groups are suing Seattle in an attempt to block a tax on gun and ammunition sales from taking effect.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), along with the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court on Monday accusing the city of violating a state law that prohibits local municipalities from regulating firearms, representatives for the organizations said.
The Seattle City Council earlier this month voted unanimously to establish a tax on gun and ammunition sales and to require firearms owners to report lost and stolen guns to the police. The reporting requirement is scheduled to take effect next month and the tax on Jan. 1.
The lawsuit, aimed only at the tax, calls that ordinance “a piece of propaganda, because … the state of Washington has the exclusive right to regulate the sale of firearms in Washington.”
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Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, compared the challenge to a previous lawsuit. Regulations that prohibited the carrying of firearms in Seattle parks — approved by the council in 2009 — were struck down in 2012.
“Once again, anti-gun activists in Seattle have chosen to violate the Washington State Constitution and trample on the Second Amendment Rights of law-abiding citizens,” Cox said.
“They tried to enact similar regulations back in 2009 and lost. It’s a shame to see such a waste of public resources on issues the courts have already ruled to be a clear violation of state law.”
When Council President Tim Burgess proposed the new gun ordinances in July — knowing they likely would get Seattle sued — he said the tax would hold up in court because the statute barring municipalities from regulating guns “does not appear to cover taxation.”
On Monday, he said about the lawsuit: “We anticipated this, so we’re prepared.”
The 2009 regulations on guns in parks were “clearly aimed at regulating the possession of firearms,” Burgess said, arguing the tax is different.
“The city believes it is well within its legal authority to tax the sales of firearms and ammunition and will vigorously defend the ordinance in court,” added Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes.
The tax of $25 per gun and 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition has drawn praise from some gun-control groups, such as the Seattle-based Grandmothers Against Gun Violence.
Burgess has said the point of the tax is to offset the costs of gun violence. Revenue from the tax will be set aside for gun-violence-prevention research and programs.
Gun violence costs the public millions of dollars each year — in addition to lives damaged and lost — when victims with Medicaid or no insurance are treated at hospitals such as Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, Burgess has pointed out.
But some gun owners have predicted the tax would be passed on to them in the form of higher prices and have complained that they’ll be paying for crimes committed by people who obtain firearms illegally.
And some gun-sellers have said the tax would force them to move their businesses outside Seattle.
Monday’s lawsuit objects to the argument that the tax is legal because taxation and regulation are distinct government functions.
“The fanciful notion that a tax can exist without implicating or requiring regulation quickly collapses when one considers the context surrounding the passage of the ordinance,” it says, citing speeches by council members before their Aug. 10 vote.
For example, Councilmember John Okamoto read a citizen statement that said, “Prohibiting guns completely will not stop every shooting, but I do believe making it more difficult to access guns and ammunition will save more lives,” the lawsuit notes.
In addition to the three gun-rights groups, the lawsuit names as plaintiffs two Seattle stores that sell guns, as well as two men — Philip Watson, of Lakewood, Pierce County, and Ray Carter, of West Seattle — who have bought firearms and ammo in the city.
Plaintiff stores Outdoor Emporium and Precise Shooter sell “the vast majority of firearms and ammunition in Seattle,” according to the lawsuit.
“Neither Outdoor Emporium nor Precise Shooter will be able to continue selling firearms or ammunition in Seattle after the imposition of the newly passed tax, with the possible exception of a select few high-end firearms and ammunition.”
Besides the city, the lawsuit names as defendants Mayor Ed Murray, the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services and Glen Lee, the city’s finance director.