By John Larson
In response to gun-related violence on both a national and local level, Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello has proposed a tax on firearms and ammunition. Based on a similar measure in Seattle, the city would impose a tax of $25 per firearm sold and two cents per pound on ammunition .22 caliber or less, and five cents per pound on large bullets. Money raised would be directed toward education efforts meant to stem gun violence.
The proposal was examined during the Council’s study session on Aug. 27. Mello began the discussion by noting the difference between mass shootings, such as those that took place on a recent weekend at a Walmart in El Paso and a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio and what he termed urban shootings, such as several that have occurred in Tacoma recently including an incident on Aug. 13 in which two men and three women were shot on East 38th Street. In another incident on Aug. 20, Tacoma Police Department assisted Puyallup Tribal Police, in which two men were shot on East 32nd Street. Mello noted that there were 628 gun-related crimes in the city in 2018, and figures show that number rising this year.
“In the industrialized world, America is unique in this regard,” Mello said about our nation’s ongoing scourge of gun violence.
Mello noted that the government has the right to generate revenue from taxes on a variety of products.
Councilmember Chris Beale noted that the tax on gasoline is not meant to punish motorists, but rather is used to improve the roads they drive upon. He noted that there was a drive-by shooting near his home in South Tacoma recently. The rash of mass shootings can “desensitize you due to how many there have been,” he said.
“An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” Councilmember Anders Ibsen remarked.
“Bulletproof backpacks are now a thing,” Councilmember Catherine Ushka said in regard to backpacks for school children. She said it is sad that there is such a need for the item.
Ushka, who represents the East Side, noted that tobacco use causes public health problems, which is one reason for the high tax imposed on cigarettes and other tobacco products in this state.
Councilmember Conor McCarthy noted that Mello’s proposal has opposition, based on e-mails Council members have received. He said he sees a need for funding for such a program and would like more information about the program in Seattle. He said people may choose to purchase firearms and ammunition in Fife or Puyallup to avoid paying the tax.
Councilmember Lillian Hunter said responsible gun owners are not to blame for gun-related crime. “It tarnishes their reputation.” The sad pattern of gun violence, nationally and locally, is tearing some communities apart. “As civil leaders, we have a responsibility to address this.” Hunter suggested the city consider other forms of taxes, such as on soda pop and sugar.
Councilmember Keith Blocker asked Mello how he arrived at the figures for the tax on guns and ammo. Mello said these are the same figures used in Seattle. Blocker said this proposal will not solve all gun-related crime problems, “but it is an attempt to do something.”
Mayor Victoria Woodard said the effort is not meant to deter lawful activities such as hunting. “When you want to fix roads, you put a tax on cars,” she remarked.
City Attorney Bill Fosbre was asked for legal advice on the matter. He noted the measure in Seattle has survived a court challenge.