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Is Seattle’s gun tax really a misguided punishment tax?

Seattle passed a gun tax that went into effect at the start of 2016. It places a $25 tax on each firearm sale, and 5 cents on each round of ammunition. (AP)
LISTEN: Is Seattle's gun tax really a misguided punishment tax?

The City of Seattle promoted its gun tax as a means of paying for the byproducts of gun violence. The tax is added to sales of firearms and ammunition. But KIRO Radio’s Ron Upshaw and Tom Tangney wonder if we are now seeing the true intention of the tax.

“It’s kind of like a punishment tax,” said KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney who was stepping in as co-host alongside Ron Upshaw.

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“The city council decided that guns do bad things to people so we should have some kind of reparation,” Tom said. “So the people who sell guns may or may not have been involved with that harm so maybe they should mitigate some of the harm brought on by guns. I don’t know if this will work. I don’t have a problem with what the city council is trying to do. The question is if it will run all the gun shops out of town.”

That’s exactly what happened. Seattle’s two gun stores left town to avoid the tax that places a $25 fee on each gun sold and 5 cents on every round of ammunition. At least one pawn shop simply stopped selling firearms and ammunition altogether just so it wouldn’t have to deal with it. And the remaining stores aren’t primarily firearms stores, such as Outdoor Emporium which sells a range of outdoor supplies. That store, however, reports that the tax did hit them hard — enough so that it laid off two employees. The store’s owner, Mike Coombs, said the layoffs were the result of the gun tax.

Ron argues that he believes the idea of the gun tax started out with good intentions, but by the time it went through the city’s process, it ended with unintended consequences.

“Sometimes I feel like, in the Pacific Northwest specifically, we are ham-handed when it comes to figuring something like this out,” Ron said. “I think the spirit of it started out pure. We wanted to help out with gun violence, we want to minimize gun violence. And I think most people, even gun owners, would say ‘yeah do that.'”

“But then it became ham-handed in execution,” he said. “If you’ve been to Outdoor Emporium, it’s not a gun store. It’s an outdoor store. The gun section is a tiny fraction of the store and most of it is geared toward hunting. And now you’re forcing a business owner that already deals with all kinds of tax rates and incentives, and he’s basically having … to fire people on the floor. That part of it I find off-putting.”

Ron notes that he has family members who shoot guns and adding the 5 cents on each round of ammunition is excessive for hobbyists who can go through hundreds of rounds in a practice session.

While Tom doesn’t entirely agree with Ron — he thinks something should be done to address gun violence — he thinks the gun tax probably isn’t the correct way to deal with firearm issues.

“Do I think it’s going to cure gun violence? No. Do I think that the people that sell guns are responsible for that gun violence? As a rule, no,” he said. “I feel it’s a way for the City of Seattle to express its displeasure at the harm guns do and trying to extract some help.”

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