NRA Challenges Seattle’s $25 ‘Gun Violence’ Tax on Firearms Sales

     SEATTLE (CN) – The National Rifle Association sued Seattle on Monday, claiming the City Council’s recent unanimous approval of a tax on gun sales and ammunition is unconstitutional.
     The City Council approved the ordinance on Aug. 10 and Mayor Ed Murray signed it into law on Aug. 21. It taxes gun sales in the city at $25, and ammunition at 2.5 cents per .22 round and 5 cents per other round, with exemptions for people who sell no more than one gun per quarter. It also requires gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to police within 24 hours. The money is to be used for research and prevention of gun violence.
     The NRA does not challenge the reporting requirement in its lawsuit in King County Court. But it says the taxes are unconstitutional.
     “(T)he ordinance serves only as a piece of propaganda, because the ordinance’s mandates are legally unenforceable,” according to the complaint, from two people and five organizations.
     “The rule of preemption could not be clearer: the City of Seattle (like any municipality in the state of Washington) is not permitted to pass laws that target the sale of firearms and ammunition through any means, be it through the suppressive effect of a $25 tax, the operative prohibition of sales through a $1,000 tax, or an outright ban,” the complaint states. “By ignoring this clear principle, the City of Seattle has wasted public resources in a futile effort to skirt the state’s exclusive powers to regulate firearms and ammunition. Accordingly, plaintiffs bring this action for injunctive and declaratory relief, and ask this court for an order that would require the defendants to follow the law.”
     It is not clear why the NRA refers to “a $1,000 tax.” Council Bill 118437 sets the “gun violence tax” at $25 per gun, exempted for people who sell no more than one gun per quarter in Seattle; and 5 cents per round (half as much for .22s), exempted for people who sell no more than 100 rounds per quarter in Seattle.
     The gun groups claims that their Seattle members will have to buy guns and ammunition outside the city if the tax is upheld, and gun dealers will have to pass on the tax to customers or relocate.
     “The exit of these retailers from the Seattle firearms market will make purchasing a generic firearm (such as a handgun or range rifle) or common ammunition (such as .22 caliber or 9mm) in Seattle a practical, if not total, impossibility,” according to the complaint.
     The reporting requirement takes effect on Sept. 20, the taxes on Jan. 1, 2016.
     Defendant Mayor Ed Murray called the law “a meaningful step” to address gun violence.
     “The unanimous council vote on this ordinance demonstrates the commitment of this city and this community to lead on the ongoing national epidemic of gun violence,” Murray said in a statement. “While action at the federal level and in many other jurisdictions remains gridlocked, we are moving ahead to address an issue so damaging to the young people of Seattle, especially young people of color.”
     Lawrence Keane, vice president of co-plaintiff National Shooting Sports Foundation, called the law an illegal “poll tax” on the Second Amendment.
     “NSSF has no alternative but to be an active party in this lawsuit against the City of Seattle’s attempt to interfere in the lawful commerce in firearms and ammunition on the grounds that it violates Washington State’s preemption statute that blocks cities from regulating the sale of firearms on their own,” Keane said in a statement.
     In its Bill Summary & Fiscal Note, Seattle wrote that it is the first city in the nation to conduct basic research on gun safety. “The City Council-funded research led to a report from the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center that established that ‘gun violence begets gun violence.’ The research found that individuals hospitalized for a firearm injury were 30 times more likely to be rehospitalized for another firearm injury than people admitted to the hospital for noninjury reasons,” according to the bill summary.
     The NRA wants the law enjoined as unconstitutional.
     It is represented by Steven Fogg, with Corr Cronin Michelson Baumgardner Fogg & Moore.

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