City of Seattle keeping quiet on how much it collected from first gun taxes

May 12, 2016, 2:29 PM | Updated: May 13, 2016, 5:23 pm
(File, Associated Press)...
(File, Associated Press)
(File, Associated Press)

The results of Seattle’s first gun tax collection are in. But you can’t see them.

When the City of Seattle passed a tax on gun and ammunition sales in the city, it touted that it could raise between $300,000 and $500,000. The first quarter tax returns — which were due at the end of April — are the first peek at how close the city is moving toward those figures.

Related: Why this council member is promoting Seattle’s gun tax

All information about the gun tax returns are exempt from public disclosure, according to a city official in response to a public records request:

Given the limited number of quarterly returns filed, the City believes releasing any information at this time about the number of filers or amount reported would risk revealing identifying taxpayer information, which is protected from disclosure per Seattle Municipal Code and state law.

The city representative said that Seattle’s Law Department is considering how to make the information available. But for the time being, Seattle won’t say how much taxes were collected, how many stores filed, or any other information that could gauge how successful the controversial tax has been — and how far toward the goal of raising $300,000 to $500,000 it has come.

When Seattle officials were attempting to pass the gun tax in 2015, they said that the money collected would go toward crime prevention and studies into gun violence reduction. The tax places a $25 fee on each firearm sold, and up to five cents for each round of ammunition sold within the city. It was controversial among the city’s gun shop, which argued that the tax would put them out of business and that customers would simply drive an extra mile or two to purchase guns and ammo outside of the city. A lawsuit was filed against the city, but Seattle’s gun tax won in the end and became active on Jan. 1.

What is known is that Seattle has since lost its only two primary gun stores, firearm-related sales in the city have taken a hit, and one store claims that at least two people have lost their jobs because of the gun tax.

‘Limited number’ of locations

Locations where firearms and ammunition are sold have been reduced to places such as pawn shops and sporting goods stores — Outdoor Emporium, and four Big 5 locations. Those businesses, however, sell a variety of products and do not deal solely in firearms.

Cody Adams, the manager of Seattle’s Outdoor Emporium, said that the taxes the store paid were insigificant given the lost sales the store has experienced.

“The (tax return) check that I sent was tiny,” said store manager Cody Adams. “If we were (just) a gun shop we would have been out of here. We would have been out of business.”

Outdoor Emporium’s owner, Mike Coombs, confirmed how much his store paid in gun taxes for the first quarter — $21,000.

Based on Outdoor Emporium’s tax return, it could be estimated — very unscientifically — that between it and the Big 5 stores the city could potentially get within the ballpark of its tax goal. That estimation is difficult to make — it is unknown how much Big 5 contributes. Upon calling one local Big 5 store, this reporter was told they still sell firearms, but it was recommended that customers go to their stores outside the city to avoid the tax.

Though Coombs notes that firearm-related sales have been hit so hard that the city has lost more sales tax revenue from his store than the $21,000 he paid in the gun tax. It’s a net loss he said.

Coombs also tells his customers who don’t like the Seattle tax where they can go if they protest paying the tax. He also owns SPORTCO in Fife.

“When a customer really balks about it and wants to buy bulk ammo — they don’t want to pay the tax — we have them go down to our Fife location,” Coombs said, noting that he will offer some incentive to encourage the customer to make the drive and keep their business.

Coombs said that Outdoor Emporium has taken a big hit in gun and ammo sales — so much that he has laid off employees.

“We laid off two people since January, unfortunately,” Coombs said. “We had to make some adjustments. And we didn’t want to do that. We’re not happy about that. We did that as a necessity because of our lost sales.”

Gun tax base flees Seattle

Aside from Big 5 and Outdoor Emporium, the only other sources of gun sales are gun stores and pawn shops.

Seattle’s two stores that dealt solely in firearms have left town in response to the gun tax. Precise Shooter was formerly located on Aurora Avenue, but moved out of town to Lynnwood before it could be taxed on gun and ammo sales. Owner Sergey Solyanik posted the business’ tax return online. It states nothing but zeros.

That is likely also true for Discount Gun Sales, formerly located on Lake City Way. The gun shop is now located in Bothell — it moved the store around Jan. 1 of this year.

One anonymous Seattle pawn shop owner said that gun sales are not a significant portion of business. And another pawn shop, Capitol Hill Loans, stopped selling guns and ammo products altogether in response to the gun tax.

Coombs said that he is supportive of gun safety measures. In fact, his store has teamed up with Children’s Hospital and King County to develop the Lok-It-Up program. But he calls Seattle’s gun tax “unfair.” He does not believe that the city will be able to take in significant amounts of the tax. Instead, he does offer one “challenge.”

“They’re not going to get what they think,” Coombs said. “I challenge the mayor and city council to take all my sales tax dollars — which is hundreds of thousands of dollars – and put that towards gun safety issues. If they are really concerned and want to make a difference — do that. If it’s really about gun safety and not driving us out of town.”

Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who had promoted the gun tax, was unavailable for comment by deadline.

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City of Seattle keeping quiet on how much it collected from first gun taxes