Gun and ammo tax is a smart move in the fight against violence.

Share story

I’m glad to see Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess is proposing the city tax gun and ammunition sales and use the money to reduce the high public cost of gun violence. The idea makes sense and it ought to be done everywhere.

We already use taxes to mitigate the harm from other consumer goods — tobacco products are an obvious example — but did you know the country already taxes firearms to protect wildlife? It works, too.

In the early part of last century, when many species were being hunted to extinction, the government stepped in with the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, also called the Pittman-Robertson Act. The government collects a tax from firearms and ammunition manufacturers, producers and importers, and the money is distributed to the states for wildlife-habitat preservation, land purchases and wildlife research.

Pittman-Robertson has been credited with saving numerous species and even saving hunting. It was so successful that a companion law to tax fishing gear and protect fish was enacted in 1950.

This year the states will get $1.1 billion from the combined taxes, and Washington’s share will be more than $22 million.

If we can tax guns and ammunition to save wildlife, shouldn’t we try to save people, too?

The Burgess proposals for the tax and a requirement that owners report a lost or stolen gun to the police began gaining support in communities around the country after the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012.

You remember. Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself. There was a lot of talk about taking big steps toward reducing gun violence. And there was movement, but mostly in scattered bits and pieces.

Two years after the shooting, Initiative 594 passed in Washington requiring background checks on most sales and transfers of firearms.

Seattle Times Reporter Daniel Beekman quoted Burgess saying gun violence is expensive, and the gun industry should help defray those costs. Burgess said 253 gunshot victims were treated at Harborview Medical Center last year at a cost of more than $17 million, with taxpayers covering more than $12 million (of that, $10.6 million is Medicaid money.)

He proposes gun sellers pay $25 per firearm sold in the city and a nickel on each round of ammunition, and that the money be used for gun-violence-prevention programs and research.

A 2014 report mentioned in the story found that people treated for gunshot injuries were likely to be involved in future crimes, to be shot again or murdered. Having the resources to intervene could prevent future trouble for them and for the community.

Just Monday a man was hospitalized after being shot twice while just sitting in his car at a traffic light in Seattle. And it’s not just Seattle. Renton police found a man shot dead in a van Monday. Auburn police just arrested a suspect in the shooting deaths of a man and woman in their city this week.

Shootings keep piling up, usually getting broad attention only when they happen in a group.

The killing of nine people in a Charleston church revived calls for action to reduce gun violence. In polls, Americans seem ready for remedies, but there is a powerful and persistent gun lobby to overcome.

Seattle is aware that any legislation on firearms would be challenged in court and through propaganda, but it’s a sound proposal. We need to be creative about reducing gun violence, gather information and use it to in smart ways.

Richmond, Calif., a city once known for its violence, has taken intervention to another level, identifying the small group of people responsible for most shootings and focusing on redirecting them. The city even paid some young people not to use guns and that, along with other intervention measures, helped significantly reduce violence and improve neighborhood safety.

Cook County, which includes most of Chicago, is trying a tax on gun sales. Ultimately we need more than local action — some people might just drive to Bellevue to buy a gun if the tax is adopted here. But we need to chip away at gun violence with every tool we have because the cost of doing nothing is just too great.

Someday all this local action might spur a national law to preserve people.