Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess is proposing the city tax gun and ammunition sales and require owners to tell police about lost and stolen firearms.
Seattle would tax gun and ammunition sales and require owners to tell police about lost and stolen firearms under a pair of bills coming before the City Council.
City Council President Tim Burgess is proposing the legislation, saying revenue from the new tax would fund gun-violence-prevention programs and research.
“Gun violence is very expensive,” Burgess said, noting that the direct medical costs of treating 253 gunshot victims at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center last year surpassed $17 million, with taxpayers covering more than $12 million of that. “It’s time for the gun industry to help defray those costs and this is a very reasonable way to do it.”
The tax, imposed on gun sellers, would be $25 on each firearm sold in the city and five cents on each round of ammunition.
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Sales of antique firearms and some other sales could see relief from the tax while individuals selling no more than one gun per quarter would be exempted.
Not reporting a lost or stolen gun to police would be enforced as a civil infraction carrying a fine of up to $500.
Zach Silk, campaign manager with the Washington Alliance for Gun Safety, hailed the proposals.
“We often attach taxes to things that cause harm to our communities and we know that guns are causing harm,” he said.
The reporting requirement would help police trace stolen guns, which are sometimes used in crimes, Silk said. It also would help gun owners recover their firearms and protect themselves from being wrongly implicated in crimes, he said.
Burgess is running for re-election and is “rushing to introduce progressive legislation” for that reason, according to one of his opponents, Jon Grant.
“We’re seeing him move left after eight years of having a pretty problematic voting record,” Grant said.
John Roderick and John Persak, two other opponents, both said they support the bills. But Roderick said Burgess has ignored an increase in gunfire in Seattle over the past two years, calling the proposals overdue. Persak said mental-health services need to be part of the funding picture.
Burgess said he’s been working to combat gun violence since 2012 and isn’t concerned about his bills being branded as political.
“Yes, elected officials do political things, but that’s our job,” he said.
Seattle will likely be sued if one bill or both become law, Burgess says. The state’s pre-emption statute prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms, including their “registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation … or any other element.” It also says they can enact “only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law.”
The pre-emption statute is why Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, says a Seattle tax is “dead on arrival.”
“They’re wrong and they know it. They’re just wearing their anti-gun philosophy on their sleeves,” he said, pointing to a lawsuit brought by his organization and other parties that in 2010 forced Seattle to scrap a rule banning guns in parks.
Burgess says the bills would hold up in court. Both have been vetted by the city’s Law Department and by private-sector attorneys working pro-bono, he said.
“The pre-emption statute does not appear to cover taxation,” Burgess said. “It covers regulation and possession and sales, but we’re not doing anything in those categories.”
City Attorney Pete Holmes confirmed that the city is prepared to defend the bills.
“One proposal is derived from our taxing authority,” Holmes said. “The other proposal is a reporting requirement that’s a common-sense public-safety measure.”
The city’s tax authorities have estimated that the proposed tax on gun sales would raise $300,000 to $500,000 annually, according to Burgess.
That could fund a two-year gunshot-victim-intervention program and study at Harborview, says Fred Rivara, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and a core member of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.
A 2014 report by the center found that individuals hospitalized with gun injuries were more likely than others to be involved in crimes, shot again or murdered. Rivara says intervention programs can work. When Harborview worked with individuals hospitalized for alcohol-related injuries it was able to reduce their repeat hospitalizations by half, he said.
“We want to take that approach and apply it to the problem of gun violence,” he said.
Gottlieb says funding for programs shouldn’t come out of gun owners’ pockets. “The city can ask Nick Hanauer for money,” he said, referring to the local venture capitalist who’s helped bankroll gun-safety measures.