You may recall that 2016 was the first year that Seattle began collecting a highly controversial “gun violence tax” on the sale of all firearms and ammunition in the city. The thinly veiled attempt to shut down gun sales survived one court challenge and is currently awaiting appeal in the state supreme court. The tax was ostensibly passed to fund a program at the Harborview Medical Center designed to “reduce the aftereffects of gun violence.”
So how much money has this scheme brought in to advance this important work? We have no idea because the city is refusing to release the tax data to the media. (Seattle Post Intelligencer)
How much money has Seattle collected from this tax? It’s the subject of a lawsuit filed by reporter Dave Workman and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation in September.
In the spring, Workman sought the city’s tax revenue from the gun violence tax, but the city government declined to divulge the information, claiming that such records could compromise the identities of the people who have paid the tax.
Even though Workman, editor of TheGunMag.com, clarified his request to indicate that he wasn’t interested in taxpayer information, just an aggregate figure, the city maintained its stance. Its logic: When the tax base is so small, release of the aggregate data could reveal the identity of individual taxpayers and how much they paid, which is protected information by state law. Furthermore, only some businesses file taxes quarterly, while others do so annually.
Seattlepi.com filed the same public records request at the end of September and received the same response.
Right off the bat this is a complete nonsense answer from the city. If there’s one thing the government (at any level) owes maximum transparency on to the public it’s full disclosure of how much money they are picking from the pockets of the citizens and what those funds are being spent on. But we get something of a hint as to why they are being so secretive about this from their answer to the request. It’s found in their description of, “a tax base … so small.”
Proponents of the tax claimed that it would raise between $300,000 to $500,000 for their “gun violence research” while it was being debated. In reality, they’ve probably collected only a tiny fraction of that amount. The Seattle PI checked into the firearms and ammunition sales situation and found that one of the city’s shops – Precise Shooter – closed up as soon as the tax went into effect and moved to the suburbs where they wouldn’t have to jack up their costs. One of the other few remaining gun shops, Outdoor Emporium, tells the Seattle PI that they’ve lost more than two million dollars in sales this year and laid off three workers. The owner estimates that he’s sent $60,000 to the city from the gun tax and he’s one of the only remaining businesses selling firearms and ammunition.
So what about that program to study gun violence which supposedly needed this tax to survive? It’s taking place anyway and the taxpayers are covering the cost out of the general fund.
Meanwhile, Harborview Medical Center confirmed this week that because the ordinance remains contested in court, the tax revenue remains untouched and the hospital is instead getting the money for its gun violence program from the city’s general fund.
“Our view is that the gun tax has always been a charade,” said Steven Fogg, one of the attorneys in both the lawsuit against the ordinance and the public records complaint.
This is yet another demonstration of how these so called targeted tax initiatives are a politically motivated ruse. As with everything else to do with the government and politics, money is fungible. If you drain it out of one particular pool that just means that more will be available elsewhere. And in this case, the projected amount of revenue is almost certainly nowhere near the sunny estimates provided by the city when the law was first being considered. In the end, all of the taxpayers are covering this cost out of the general fund anyway.
This tax has been a dismal failure, producing nothing but lost jobs and a serious drop in revenue for the city. Of course, they have very nearly managed to shut down gun sales inside of Seattle which was no doubt their original intent anyway, so I suppose some would consider it a roaring success. Or at least they would if they somehow manage to ignore the fact that people are still making those purchases at the same or even higher rates… they’re just traveling out to the suburbs to do it.