FOLLOWUP: City’s defense in lawsuit filed against gun, ammunition tax

Just in from the City Attorney’s Office, this announcement of how it’s defending against the lawsuit filed challenging the recently approved gun and ammunition tax:

The $25 per firearm tax on retailers enacted to mitigate the costs of gun violence in Seattle is “a proper and lawful exercise” of the City’s authority as granted by the Washington Constitution and Legislature, the City declared in rebutting a lawsuit filed by the NRA, among other gun-rights groups, and several individuals. “The Ordinance does not limit any person’s right to purchase, sell, acquire, transfer, discharge, or transport firearms or ammunition,” the City said in its answer to Watson v. City of Seattle.

“This is where Seattle draws the line,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said as assistant City attorneys, aided by national and local counsel working pro bono, entered their appearances in the case Wednesday in King County Superior Court.

“The NRA doesn’t get to come into our City and tell our elected officials that they lack the authority in Washington state to tax businesses that sell a product that, when misused, so dearly costs our constituents, most of them young people.”

In a Seattle summer marred by random gunfire, the City Council unanimously approved, and Mayor Ed Murray signed, the ordinance that, come January, will levy a $25 tax on businesses for each firearm sold at retail within City limits to provide a sustained local revenue source for research and prevention programs. In addition, the City will impose a 2-cent tax for every round of .22 caliber ammunition sold and a 5-cent tax for every other round of ammunition sold. A companion ordinance mandates that lost or stolen firearms be reported to the Seattle Police Department.

“With Congress under the NRA’s thumb, even after mass shootings in such innocuous places as elementary schools and movie theaters,” Holmes said, “cities and counties are asserting their right to find inventive, legal ways to alleviate the physical and emotional results of the violence.” A $25 gun tax on retailers in Cook County, Illinois, is being collected, and the revenues placed in escrow, while a lawsuit plays out in trial court.

“Gun-fueled tragedies like Sandy Hook, where 20 children and six school staff were slaughtered, ironically result in a stampede to buy even more weapons,” said Holmes, a founding member of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. “It’s a pattern seen over and over again, apparently out of the misplaced fear that government would step in to curtail gun sales.”

“This City acted to control its own destiny,” Holmes said of the ordinance authored by Council President Tim Burgess.

Burgess, after meeting this week with lawyers from the prominent national and international firm, Steptoe & Johnson LLP who are working with City attorneys pro bono, said, “This is a strong legal team to defend the city’s gun violence tax, a common sense step designed to reduce gun violence in Seattle. This tax will allow the City to provide broad-based public benefits related to gun violence. The time is long overdue for the gun industry to stop obstructing and instead take positive steps to address the harm their products cause.”

In June 2013 Seattle became the first U.S. city to provide local government funding for basic gun safety research. The following year the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle delivered a report on the predictors and consequences of firearm violence in King County that found that individuals hospitalized for a firearm injury are 30 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for another firearm injury than people admitted to the hospital for non-injury reasons.

Steptoe’s local counsel is Gordon Tilden Thomas & Cordell. The two firms’ pro bono work for the City debunks the accusation by Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, that, “It’s a shame to see such a waste of public resources on issues the courts have already ruled to be unconstitutional.”

The team from Steptoe, which has a rich history of working without compensation on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties and child trafficking, is directed by William F. Abrams, head of the firm’s Palo Alto, CA, office and a consulting professor at Stanford University. Joining Abrams from Steptoe are Laurie Edelstein, Sarah Jackel and David Kwasniewski.

Abrams said, “Seattle has the right to mitigate the costs of gun violence, which exceeded $12 million at Harborview alone last year, by taxing those who engage in the sale of firearms and ammunition in the City. This tax addresses a public health crisis that imposes a huge financial burden on the City – it does not regulate the sale or use of firearms.”

30 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: City's defense in lawsuit filed against gun, ammunition tax"

  • Ray September 10, 2015 (10:05 am)

    While true:
    “The NRA doesn’t get to come into our City and tell our elected officials that they lack the authority in Washington state to tax businesses that sell a product that, when misused, so dearly costs our constituents, most of them young people.”

    The STATE does get to tell the city what it can and cannot do. And the state HAS said that cities cannot enact this kind of tax.

    Congrats to the Seattle City Council in wasting time and money on this. Yes, the city’s legal firm may be working pro bono, but city personnel will be spending some time and effort on this that they could be spending elsewhere. Thus it does have a real cost to the taxpayers.

  • me September 10, 2015 (10:26 am)

    I fully support this tax and others on these devices. I notice gun ‘enthusiasts’ never have any options of their own to curb gun violence.

  • B September 10, 2015 (10:41 am)

    I’d be interested to know more why the city of Seattle can’t enact this tax Ray. The city can tax things like liquor or cigarettes (I’m assuming), how is this product any different?

  • ChefJoe September 10, 2015 (10:44 am)

    me, I support ankle monitors for those arrested prior to their court case. A lot of crimes with guns seem to involve people who have prior warrants for their arrest.

    There, no “never”.

  • Eric September 10, 2015 (10:47 am)

    Is that the same “Ray” commenting who is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit?

  • Jim September 10, 2015 (11:06 am)

    This tax will have zero impact on gun violence. It will wind up costing the city more than it’s worth. It’s another feel good tax that is not thought all the way through. Alas, it’s what we should expect from electing the idiots.

  • Eric1 September 10, 2015 (11:16 am)

    “Gun enthusiasts” option to solve gun violence is to enforce current laws not invent new ones that do nothing about the problem. Felon in possession or possession of a stolen firearm can get them 10 years. Given the number of recovered firearms in this city that SPD likes to claim, I don’t see the corresponding number of criminals in jail.
    The city clowncil is avoiding the elephant in the room. Gun enthusiasts as you like to call them, generally have a certain stereotype. The people responsible for the supposed 12 million in unpaid Harborview bills are generally from an entirely different demographic sector. The city can’t pick on that demographic because it really isn’t their fault for having stolen guns and no insurance. It is the fault of the former for having valuables that the latter steal from. You and I get to take care of the hospital bills because it is our fault for living in the city and being privileged enough by birth to have a job with benefits.

  • udmiou1 September 10, 2015 (11:20 am)

    Owning a gun is a choice, much like owning a car, drinking alcohol, or smoking. If you CHOOSE to participate, you will be taxed. Anyone else have any genius plan for funding the fallout of gun related violence? Cars and yearly tabs fun roadwork, so why shouldn’t tax on guns and ammo fund research and prevention programs for gun violence?

  • Born on Alki 59 September 10, 2015 (11:38 am)

    The handful of gun/ammo businesses left in Seattle will simply move out of the city limits. Seattle will lose more sales tax revenue from those businesses leaving than it will gain with this new proposed tax.

    I will say the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center report was interesting.

    It looks like Seattle should also impose a tax on rope, belts, knives, spears, sticks, rocks, bottles, boots, prescription drugs or any other items responsible for suicide attempts and non gun related assaults, which far outnumber violent gun crime injuries. (according to the report findings)

  • Joe Szilagyi September 10, 2015 (11:45 am)

    I’m all for gun control. A lot. But this specific action does appear disallowed by the state level legal framework. In hindsight, I do wonder if this was political theater for the primary elections of the City Council, to benefit current sitting Councilmembers fighting for their jobs.

  • STB September 10, 2015 (12:19 pm)

    The city will lose this fight, sorry.

    Punishing the responsible gun owners… this will do nothing to prevent illegal gun access. How will it?- not talking about safety education etc. How will this PREVENT anything? Seems like just another attempt to bolster the general fund.

    You live your life and I’ll live mine. Stop trying to impose your liberal/anti-gun views on me.

    Maybe if we spent the right kind of money on education AND paid our teachers a reasonable salary our children will learn how to communicate and talk to one another rather than resorting to killing/violence to prove a point or settle an argument, etc

    Stay safe out there-

  • Born on Alki 59 September 10, 2015 (12:21 pm)

    @udmiou, Of course there is no genius plan for preventing gun violence, except prosecute those felons who commit crimes with guns to the full extent of the law. Maybe even impose hard labor.
    I have been a gun “enthusiast” for decades, and I can tell you none of my weapons have ever shot anyone. It takes intent, and more importantly, as the study revealed, criminal intent.
    Guns don’t kill/injure people, people kill/injure people.
    Taxing guns and ammo to prevent gun violence is like taxing electricity because someone got electrocuted.
    I don’t know, maybe we should make guns illegal?
    After all, we made drugs illegal and that seems to be working out pretty well….

  • ChefJoe September 10, 2015 (1:07 pm)

    I like where that’s going Born on Alki, but maybe we should just make it like FAFSA forms and their questions about drug crimes. Anyone convicted of a crime involving firearms could be ineligible for state aid programs.

  • metrognome September 10, 2015 (1:23 pm)

    I’ve been a car ‘enthusiast’ for decades; I’ve never killed anyone with my car. I lock my car at all times and keep the keys on my person or under my pillow. I do not leave valuables in my car. Yet, I am required to license that car every year, often paying add’l fees for unrelated services such as public transit, I am required to carry insurance and I must pass a test to be licensed to operate a vehicle and periodically pay to renew said license, including possibly having to retake the written and/or driving test and having my vision tested. In addition, I pay taxes and fees when I buy the car, when I put gas in it and when necessary maintenance is performed.
    Now that I am retired, I cannot afford all these taxes and fees. Without my car, I cannot exercise my constitutionally guaranteed right to the pursuit of happiness nor can I engage in interstate commerce.
    Cars don’t kill or maim people, drivers do.

  • Ray September 10, 2015 (1:44 pm)

    State preemption.

    The state of Washington hereby fully occupies and preempts the entire field of firearms regulation within the boundaries of the state, including the registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components. Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to firearms that are specifically authorized by state law, as in RCW 9.41.300, and are consistent with this chapter. Such local ordinances shall have the same penalty as provided for by state law. Local laws and ordinances that are inconsistent with, more restrictive than, or exceed the requirements of state law shall not be enacted and are preempted and repealed, regardless of the nature of the code, charter, or home rule status of such city, town, county, or municipality.

  • Born on Alki 59 September 10, 2015 (1:59 pm)

    Good idea Chef Joe.

  • zark00 September 10, 2015 (2:09 pm)

    Your understanding of RCW 9.41.290 and 9.41.300 is incorrect.

    Those laws have nothing to do with taxes, they have everything to do with ownership, transport, use, etc.

    For example King County cannot add a 6 month waiting period or ban assault rifles, because the state controls that, but they absolutely can attach an additional point of sale tax. It’s the same concept that allows for different sales tax rates by county, for Seattle to pay 9.6% to cover Metro, usually under the general ‘Local Sales and Use Tax’ umbrella.

    But thankfully it doesn’t matter how you or the NRA misinterpret the law – the judge will get it right. NRA lost this one before it started.

    I can’t think of any real, honest, decent gun owner who wouldn’t gladly pay an extra nickle a bullet or $25 a gun to promote gun education, proper use, maintenance and storage, and safety. Of course, the money raised form this, will go to exactly that. As I’m sure you are well aware proper training in gun safety (including storing them) is a key part of reducing gun violence. I also don’t know a single responsible gun owner who wouldn’t contribute to something that would help the unfortunate recipient of gun related injury. $25 to help save a hunter who accidentally shot himself – it happens – who wouldn’t support that?

  • GC September 10, 2015 (2:41 pm)

    I have it on good authority that the “Ray” commenting is *not* a participant in the case.

  • ChefJoe September 10, 2015 (2:42 pm)

    zark, taxes on property have to be applied at an equal rate (which is part of why we can’t have a graduated income tax in WA), so I’m not sure why attaching a gun purchase fee of $25 wouldn’t be considered adding new layers to the sale.

  • Ship of Fools September 10, 2015 (3:05 pm)

    I’m certain of three things on this issue: Our elected “leaders” were most certainly grandstanding for their own (timely) benefit; this is another colossal waste of taxpayer’s funds (especially given that these “leaders” knew it to fly in the face of state law); and finally, that this WILL be overturned. And fourth, I will laugh.

    The idiocy and egotism exhibited by these city clowns is an act I’m getting very tired of funding. They all got the attention they needed at election time. Their claim that this is about public safety is a farce; they went after low hanging fruit and got the media attention they craved. Watch how quickly this unravels once the lawyers push back. What a joke. No one is safer. No crime has been (or will be) averted. Pure politics. Sickening.

  • Born on Alki 59 September 10, 2015 (3:20 pm)

    I wouldn’t hold out too much hope one nickel of this tax would ever go to promote gun safety or help a recovering gunshot victim. It will likely go directly to the general fund and not create one decent gun safety program or accident prevention program. The City should promote gun/hunter/gun handling safety programs that are taught by trained professionals. They already exist thru the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and NRA at minimal cost to anyone willing to register. These are actually required by law for anyone wishing to purchase a hunting license born after 1972. To think the City could actually set up training that equals these existing programs is wishful thinking at best.
    Just my $.02

  • zark00 September 10, 2015 (5:02 pm)

    @ Born on Alki – unfortunately I agree with you – but that’s at least what they are claiming the tax is for. $14M in gun related care costs at Harborview alone is quite a lot, if they can mitigate that at all I think it’s still a win.

    @Ship of Fools – I guess we’ll see if you’re laughing – case law says you’ll be sad instead. Also, it doesn’t fly in the face of state law, so that part of your assumptions if just off base.

    @ChefJoe because it’s not a property or income tax it’s a sales tax – same reason why counties and cities have different sales tax rates throughout the state of Washington.

  • Paul September 10, 2015 (6:26 pm)

    Let’s face it, the taxation of firearms and ammunition does NOTHING to address the issue of gun violence in Seattle. It’s true that this will probably chase shops out of Seattle, but doing so does little when you can visit your neighboring cities and purchase none the less. (Hint most “enthusiasts” already shop outside the city).

    This is nothing more than local political theatre at the expense of the tax payers.

    We need reasonable gun control; the _only_ place to actually solve this problem is at the state level, anything less is a wooden nickel.

  • ChefJoe September 10, 2015 (6:38 pm)

    zark, did you miss the point about it being a flat fee and not a percentage of the sale ?

  • cowpie September 10, 2015 (9:01 pm)

    Totally agree with most above, the tax is bs… The idea should be, ” get the guns out of the hands of the CRIMINALS”. Start with gun buybacks( legal owners don’t sell guns back dirt cheap). Then, either undercover,or low level informants actually buy the guns street level. Stolen, or guns used in crimes, have little value at street level. The tax is a bs study at the cost of LEGAL owners.

  • Chris September 10, 2015 (11:01 pm)

    This does nothing at all to curb gun violence. Criminals commit it and they get their hands on black market guns. Do something better to curb the black market gun access. This city seriously needs more cops and more presence.

  • AK September 10, 2015 (11:28 pm)

    There are some great ideas for addressing gun violence, but they’re hard and take lots of grunt work, which politicians are notoriously not interested in. Stuff that I think we should do.

    From a politician’s perspective new laws and taxes are great. They’re like a magic spell. You mumble the right incantation and *poof* the problem is gone and you get to say that you’re the one who fixed it.

    Never mind that it doesn’t actually work.

  • ClamRanger September 11, 2015 (2:49 am)

    As an NRA member and 58 year WS resident, I fully support this tax and hope the City INCREASES the tax to a brutal level. Say $100 per gun, $1 per round.

    It’s the best scheme to deny the City a substantial amount of sales tax.

    I recently made my latest pistol and ammo purchases (August) at West Coast Armory near Bellevue. I easily denied the City at least $150 in sales tax and $25 in gun tax, so the City is losing more than just the $25. If they increase the new tax/fee to a brutal level it will drive out all the gun/ammo vendors from the City, and with it the sales tax on those sales.

    So more tax increases please so we drive businesses and sales tax outside the City!!!!

    Follow the money ….
    Choke the Treasury …

  • Born on Alki 59 September 11, 2015 (7:25 am)

    Totally agreed Clamranger. I will miss the Outdoor Emporium though. The city can kiss nearly 1mil in annual sales tax revenue goodbye when they move out of Seattle. Political grandstanding at its finest.

  • metro September 29, 2015 (9:16 pm)

    The argument that it is just a tax reeks of the days of the marijuana tax stamp. We all know that tax was created to stop the use of marijuana and had little or nothing to do with money or taxes.
    Also, the tax is exorbitant. The tax can increase the cost of a round of ammunition anywhere from 15% to as much as 35%. What responsible citizen would complain about having the cost of something he purchased regularly increasing by as much as a third? Only almost all of them if they were being honest in their answer.

Sorry, comment time is over.