The National Firearms Association (NRA), National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle on Monday to challenge its recently approved “gun violence tax.” Unanimously passed earlier in August and set to go into effect next year, the new city ordinance places a $25 tax on each new firearm purchased and a five-cent tax on every round of ammunition—except .22 LR, which will carry a two-cent tax.
The ordinance faced widespread criticism from gun owners and, according to the plaintiffs, violates state law. At least two local gun shops are also represented in the King County lawsuit.
“Once again, anti-gun activists in Seattle have chosen to violate the Washington State Constitution and trample upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “They tried to enact similar regulations back in 2009 and lost. It’s a shame to see such a waste of public resources on issues the courts have already ruled to be a clear violation of state law.”
Gun rights advocates argue that Washington state laws prohibit cities from independently regulating firearms and pointed to another case in 2009 in which the city attempted to prohibit the carrying of firearms in local parks. That ordinance was struck down in 2012 after it reached the state supreme court.
“We’ve been down this path before with Seattle when we sued them and won, knocking out their attempt to ban guns in city park facilities,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb. “The city does not seem to understand that no matter how they wrap this package, it’s still a gun control law and it violates Washington’s long-standing preemption statute.”
City Attorney Pete Holmes and City Council President Tim Burgess, who introduced the measure, say that the tax is not a form of regulation. Instead, supporters of the ordinance say Seattle is within its authority to increase taxes on firearm and ammunition sales. The tax is expected to bring in about $300,000 to $500,000 for the city. Those funds will be used specifically for violence prevention research and programs, which opponents have also criticized as being historically ineffective.
“The NRA does this all across the country whenever they feel that anyone is trying to regulate firearms, and that’s not what we’re doing here,” Burgess told the Associated Press. “We’re using the city’s taxing authority, which is granted to us by the Washington Constitution and the Legislature.”
Critics claim that the tax is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to push gun stores out of the city.
“The Seattle ordinance is nothing but a ‘poll tax’ on the Second Amendment and an effort to drive Seattle’s firearms retailers out of business,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel.
Local gun shop owners, such as Sergey Solyanik of Precise Shooter, said that the tax could be the final nail in the coffin for Seattle’s already struggling retailers.
“If we raise the prices, we cannot compete with the Internet,” Solyanik wrote in a letter to city officials. “The situation with guns is basically the same as with consumer electronics—though the price seems to be big, many online retailers sell for prices very close to wholesale. Only the fact that we can impose the transfer fee and the tax is collected the same was on Internet sales keeps local gun dealers afloat.”
Precise Shooter is one of two gun shops listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit.
Legal experts predict that just like in 2012, this case will be one that has to be decided in the state’s supreme court. According to the NRA, the only other local municipality in the nation with a similar tax on gun sales is Chicago.