For the fourth consecutive year, the City of Seattle’s special tax on firearms and ammunition has fallen far short of original predictions, although according to data provided by the city, revenue was up slightly in 2019.
Last year, the city collected $85,352, which is just over $7,800 more than the $77,518 collected in 2018.
But it’s a shadow of what proponents of the tax contended Seattle would take in when the tax was hastily adopted in mid-2015, essentially copying a gun tax imposed in Cook County, Illinois. At that time, former Councilman Tim Burgess suggested the city’s revenue from the tax could reach between $300,000 and $500,000. The money was supposed to be used for “gun violence” reduction efforts.
The tax was unsuccessfully challenged by the Second Amendment Foundation, National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation in the courts. The groups alleged the tax was actually a form of local gun control, which is forbidden by Washington state’s preemption law, adopted in 1983 and again in 1985. Under that statute, only the Legislature can adopt gun regulations. However, the liberal Washington state Supreme Court ruled the tax falls within the city’s taxing authority.
But when SAF supported a Public Records Act lawsuit filed by the editor of TheGunMag.com (formerly Gun Week) in 2016 to force the city to release tax revenue data, the court agreed. It was then the city revealed just how short the actual revenue figure was, an embarrassing $103,766 for the first year of collections. SAF owns TheGunMag.com, and always considered it a First Amendment case based on the principle that the public has a right to know about such projects.
“We suspected all along that the city’s predictions were fabricated,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb at the time.
The next year, 2017, saw gun tax revenue fall even farther, to $93,220 and by 2018, the collections had plummeted.
Last year is the first time the tax has actually picked up a bit, though still nowhere near the original prediction.
One of the city’s two major gun stores actually moved to avoid paying the tax. The other major retailer—Outdoor Emporium—routinely refers gun-buying clients to its sister store in Pierce County.
The tax places a $25 fee on the sale of each firearm. The city also imposes a 5-cent tax per round of centerfire ammunition and 2 cents on every round of rimfire ammunition.
While the tax was promoted as a way to reduce gun-related violence, Seattle Police Department data suggests it has failed on that front in terms of gun-related homicides, and has been only marginally successful in reducing the number of shots-fired reports.
In 2016, the first full year this tax was collected, Seattle Police data shows a total of 326 shooting incidents including 11 fatal shootings, 59 incidents of people wounded, and 256 reports of shots fired.
The next year saw 351 shooting incidents including 16 murders, 67 cases of gunshot injuries and 268 shots fired reports.
In 2018, the data shows 308 shooting incidents including 13 slayings, 67 more cases of people being injured and 228 shots fired reports.
Last year, there were 18 gun-related killings, 73 non-fatal shootings were reported and the city logged 224 reports of shots fired.