A King County Superior Court judge on Friday ruled in favor of the Second Amendment Foundation and the senior editor of its monthly publication, TheGunMag.com, in a lawsuit against the City of Seattle over violation of the Public Records Act (PRA).
Judge Lori K. Smith issued her decision from the bench, according to Seattle attorney Steven Fogg, who represented the plaintiffs. She held that the city had not acted in bad faith, so a nominal penalty was assessed. But Fogg said via e-mail that “Judge Smith’s ruling establishes that the City should have disclosed the information to the public when we asked for it. By fighting us needlessly, they now have to pay a penalty and our attorney fees, not to mention their own attorney time (they had two City attorneys assigned to this).”
The lawsuit was filed in September of last year after the city repeatedly refused to release revenue figures on how much it had collected under the controversial 2015 “gun violence tax.” The city had argued that it would violate the privacy of firearms retailers in the city to disclose even an aggregate revenue figure.
But Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder and executive vice president, contended that the real reason the city was reluctant to disclose the revenue figure was because it fell far short of the forecast of $300,000 to $500,000 annually.
The gun tax was passed in 2015, ostensibly to raise revenue that the city could use to pay for “gun violence” research and prevention efforts. The tax levies $25 on the sale of each firearm, plus five cents on each centerfire cartridge and two cents on every rimfire cartridge. The city was sued in late December 2015 by SAF, the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation and two Seattle firearms retailers, Outdoor Emporium and Precise Shooter. It is the first time that SAF, NRA and NSSF have joined forces in a lawsuit.
In the Spring of 2016, TheGunMag.com Senior Editor Dave Workman filed a PRA request with the city, seeking the first quarter gun tax revenue. The city declined to provide the information, using the taxpayer privacy argument.
Workman submitted a revised request, asking only for an aggregate figure, not the individual tax payments from firearms retailers. The city again refused to provide the data, so Workman and SAF filed the lawsuit.
Earlier this year, the city attempted to satisfy the complaint by announcing that it had collected “less than $200,000” for the entire year of 2016, which was well short of the projection. But how short did not become apparent until this past Spring, when the largest remaining retailer, Outdoor Emporium, revealed that it was paying the lion’s share of the tax, approximately 80 percent. That would put the tax revenue ceiling much closer to $100,000, a far cry from the original prediction.
“We are delighted with the outcome of this case,” said Gottlieb, who is also publisher of TheGunMag.com. “It was silly for Seattle to withhold this information, but we’re pretty certain why the city did it. The council was told that this tax could generate between $300,000 and a half-million dollars, but now it appears the city has collected just over $100,000, which is an embarrassing shortfall.
“As a result,” he added, “the city has essentially lost money on this scheme because now they have to pay our attorney fees, plus a small penalty. On top of that, the city has lost tax revenue because one major gun dealer has moved out of the city and another has reported considerable sales losses. That is tax money the city will never realize.”
The city has the option to appeal, according to Fogg of Corr Cronin Michelson Baumgardner Fogg & Moore LLP of Seattle.