Judge upholds Seattle’s gun and ammunition tax
A judge has sided with Seattle and against the NRA in the first round of a legal fight over the city’s new tax on gun and ammunition sales.
Seattle’s new tax on gun and ammunition sales can take effect on Jan. 1, a judge ruled Tuesday, siding with the city against the National Rifle Association.
King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson dismissed the NRA’s lawsuit seeking to block the tax, which it filed in August along with other firearms groups.
Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess, who sponsored the city’s ordinance establishing the tax of $25 per gun and 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition, commented after the decision.
“Then NRA and its allies always oppose these common-sense steps to shine light on the gun-violence epidemic,” Burgess said.
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“They have blocked funding for basic gun-safety research at the federal level for decades. But in Seattle it is different. Judge Robinson saw through the NRA’s distorted efforts to put gun-industry profits ahead of public safety.”
The NRA vowed to appeal.
“It’s unfortunate the court chose to ignore the law and embrace the Seattle City Council’s anti-gun agenda,” spokesman Lars Dalseide said in a statement.
“This is not the final word. We will keep fighting until all legal avenues are exhausted and the people of Seattle are free to exercise their Second Amendment rights without persecution from their elected officials.”
The City Council voted unanimously in August to approve the tax on gun and ammo sellers.
But in a hearing before the judge last week, a lawyer for the plaintiffs argued the ordinance violates a state statute that bans cities from regulating firearms, reserving that authority for state officials. He called the ordinance a regulatory fee masquerading as a tax and accused city officials of trying to sneak around state law.
A lawyer for the city responded that the ordinance should be allowed because it involves taxation, distinct from regulation. He said the point of the ordinance is to raise money to fund research and programs to curb gun violence, such as a gunshot-victim-intervention program — not to discourage the sale of firearms or impose gun control.
In a written opinion, Robinson agreed that the ordinance will impose a tax. The judge denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, granting the city’s cross-motion.
“I’m gratified by Judge Robinson’s thorough analysis,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a news release, adding, “The NRA needs to butt out of Seattle’s efforts to enact sensible gun-safety legislation.”
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility also praised the ruling, as did Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
“For too long, we have had insufficient research and data on gun violence to help guide our response,” Murray said in a statement. “We will now have critical funding to advance our work on gun-violence research and prevention.”
The plaintiffs are the NRA, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, two Seattle gun stores and two local gun owners.
The gun-store owners who are part of the lawsuit have called the ordinance an unfair burden that will force them to lose business or relocate outside the city.
Sergey Solyanik, the owner of Precise Shooter near Green Lake and one of the plaintiffs in the case, declined to comment Tuesday.
“We are disappointed and strongly disagree with (Robinson’s) ruling, and we are confident that the state Court of Appeals will ultimately concur with our position,” Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb said in a news release.
“It is unconscionable for Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council to codify what amounts to social bigotry against firearms retailers and their customers, and we are going to fight this vigorously in defense of a state law that has served Washington citizens well for more than three decades,” Gottlieb added.
Seattle isn’t the first jurisdiction in the country to adopt a tax on gun sales; the Illinois county that includes Chicago did so in 2012. The tax there is being collected in escrow pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the county.
Burgess has said Seattle’s tax is expected to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Solyanik and other critics of the ordinance have questioned that, saying the tax won’t raise much at all if it drives the city’s few remaining gun stores out of town.