A National Rifle Association lawsuit seeking to immunize gun dealers from a recently enacted tax was rejected by a state trial court on Tuesday. If Judge Palmer Robinson’s decision is ultimately upheld on appeal, the tax will fund gun safety research as well as programs seeking to prevent gun violence.
Last August, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) signed an ordinance providing for a $25 tax on each gun and a 2 to 5 cent tax on each round of ammunition sold within the city. The NRA, along with several other pro-gun groups and individuals, sued, claiming that the law violates a Washington State law preventing municipal governments from enacting any “regulation” of guns. As Judge Robinson explains in his opinion, however, the power to tax is separate from the power to regulate. Among other things, he notes, the ordinance does not “place any burden or restriction” on gun dealers beyond the obligation to pay the tax.
Yet, while this decision is a victory over the NRA, it’s striking how small it is compared to the scope of America’s — or even Seattle’s — gun violence epidemic. Even setting aside lost lives, Seattle City Counsel President Tim Burgess estimates that “the direct medical costs of treating 253 gunshot victims at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center last year surpassed $17 million, with taxpayers covering more than $12 million of that,” according to the Seattle Times. Yet the tax challenged by the NRA is only expected to raise between $300,000 and $500,000.
At least some of these new revenues, moreover, will be used to throw a handful of sand into a canyon dug by pro-gun lawmakers at the federal level. Though some portion of the funds will go to research on gun violence, such research is sparse because of a 20 year-old ban on federal research into such violence.
It’s not hard to guess why groups like the NRA want to discourage such research, however, as the research that does exist generally does not support their arguments. A 2013 Center for American Progress report determined that “the 10 states with the weakest gun laws collectively have a level of gun violence that is more than twice as high — 104 percent higher — than the 10 states with the strongest gun laws.” Another study of firearm homicides from 1981 until 2010 determined that “for each 1 percentage point increase in proportion of household gun ownership” the rate of gun homicides increased by 0.9 percent.