Seattle City Council member ready to pull trigger on gun tax
One Seattle City Council member wants the gun industry to foot the bill for what he says is a “public health epidemic.”
“This is a very simple, common sense measure to help us mitigate gun violence,” Council member Tim Burgess told KIRO Radio’s Seattle’s Morning News.
The “common sense measure” is actually two pieces of legislation currently proposed and filtering through the council’s committees. They will be discussed next at the Education and Governance Committee on July 15.
The first bill would establish a tax on each firearm and each bullet sold in Seattle. The second would require, by law, that gun owners report any lost or stolen firearms to the Seattle Police Department within 24 hours of the discovery. Failure to report would result in a fine of $500.
“It has several benefits,” Burgess said. “First of all, it helps police trace guns used in crimes. Second, it allows police to return firearms to their rightful owner. And I think, very importantly, it precludes gun owners from being falsely implicated in crimes involving their weapon if that should occur later.”
Burgess notes that nine other states have such mandatory reporting requirements.
The proposed gun tax would have firearms sellers pay $25 for every gun and 5 cents for every round of ammunition sold. Proceeds from the tax would be used to fund prevention programs and research for reducing gun violence. Should the tax be approved, it is estimated to raise between $300,000 and $500,000, according to Seattle’s budget office.
“We tax cigarettes, we tax alcohol, even wood-burning stoves, to mitigate the impact of those products on our public health. We should certainly do it for guns and ammunition as well,” Burgess said. “Last year alone, in 2014, 253 people were admitted to Harborview [Medical Center] with gunshot injuries. That costs the taxpayers in our region $12 million.”
Local push back
While city officials are touting the possible benefits of the new taxes, at least one local business owner is reaching out to customers to fight back.
“If this really were to come to pass, I will not be competitive and I will have to close my doors,” said Sergey Solyanik, owner of Precise Shooter on Aurora Avenue.
Solyanik posted a message on his shop’s website asking customers to call local council members in protest of the proposed bills. He argued that there are only two gun specialty stores in Seattle, including his own. There are other stores that sell limited firearms, but they are not the caliber of firearm resource that the two shops are, he said.
Solyanik argues that Seattle firearm taxes will cause customers to shop at any of the eight gun stores right outside the city limits to avoid the added costs.
That dynamic will make it difficult for local gun shops to make their bottom lines, Solyanik said, placing unfair conditions on Seattle stores.
Not only will Solyanik be forced to close his store, the shop owner said he will bring legal action to the city.
“We will have to sue. I just invested a fairly large amount of money in the store. I won’t just be able to close the doors and move without at least trying to fight this in court,” he said. “I just spent half a million dollars on the store…it’s just not fair and completely unreasonable.”
The legal cost to the city is just one number Seattle will have to deal with, Solyanik noted, further saying that he is suspicious of the city’s claim it will take in $300,000 to $500,000 from the new taxes.
Looking through his sales over the past six months, he figures the city could take in a maximum of $25,000 from his store. Even if that is one third of the revenue the city could see, it falls short of the projected numbers.
Ammunition is also another concern for Solyanik, a fairly inexpensive product, he said.
“For example, 22 ammunition cost under 5 cents a round, so a 5 cent round tax basically doubles the price of this ammunition,” he said. “People will not buy it. They will go across the way to buy it.”
He also cited target ammunition for 9 mm pistols would experience a 25 percent increase in price. As for the $25 per sold firearm tax, the shop owner argues that the profit margin is so slim on guns, that it will be an unfair cost.
“A $25 on a gun sale, that would basically put me underwater compared to anyone else in the area,” Solyanik said. “I will have to close.”
Burgess said he didn’t know how easily the bills will pass, but did express confidence that they will indeed become local law.
“I never predict what my colleagues will do, but I am fairly confident that these measures will pass,” he said.
Mayor Ed Murray has already expressed support for the bills in an online statement.
“I want to thank Councilmember Burgess for his leadership. We know the people of Seattle demand action on this issue, not more talk,” Murray said.
The city has promoted a variety of reasons to back up the proposed legislation. The Seattle Police Department has processed 2,657 firearms in its evidence locker since 2012. Since that time, 69 percent of homicides, 17 percent of robberies, and 8 percent of aggravated assaults in Seattle have involved guns.
According to the city, Harborview Medical Center was forced to develop an intervention program for reducing gun violence due to the considerable number of patients with gun wounds. The program is also partially the result of a city-funded 2013 study on gun violence.
“Someone admitted to Harborview for a gunshot injury is 30 times more likely to be readmitted for an additional gunshot injury than other non-injury patients admitted to the hospital,” Burgess said. “That finding, and many others in that study, shows that gun violence begets gun violence. I think it’s reasonable and common sense to ask the gun industry to help defray those costs.”
Proceeds from the gun tax are proposed to help fund Harborview’s program for gun violence, which is patterned after the hospital’s program for alcohol-related injuries started in the early ’90s, according to Burgess.
“That program was so successful that it is now the mandatory best practice at trauma centers all over the United States,” he said. “And it reduces alcohol-related injuries by half. What if we could accomplish the same for gun violence? That would be a huge benefit for our city and our region.”