City asserts its authority to tax firearms, ammunition sales
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City asserts its authority to tax firearms, ammunition sales

WASHINGTON, D.C. – September 11, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — The $25 per firearm tax on retailers enacted to mitigate the costs of gun violence in Seattle is “a proper and lawful exercise” of the City’s authority as granted by the Washington Constitution and Legislature, the City declared in rebutting a lawsuit filed by the NRA, among other gun rights groups, and several individuals. “The Ordinance does not limit any person’s right to purchase, sell, acquire, transfer, discharge, or transport firearms or ammunition,” the City said in its answer to Watson v. City of Seattle.

“This is where Seattle draws the line,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said as assistant City attorneys, aided by national and local counsel working pro bono, entered their appearances in the case Wednesday in King County Superior Court. “The NRA doesn’t get to come into our City and tell our elected officials that they lack the authority in Washington state to tax businesses that sell a product that, when misused, so dearly costs our constituents, most of them young people.”

In a Seattle summer marred by random gunfire, the City Council unanimously approved, and Mayor Ed Murray signed, the ordinance that, come January, will levy a $25 tax on businesses for each firearm sold at retail within City limits to provide a sustained local revenue source for research and prevention programs. In addition, the City will impose a 2-cent tax for every round of .22 caliber ammunition sold and a 5-cent tax for every other round of ammunition sold. A companion ordinance mandates that lost or stolen firearms be reported to the Seattle Police Department.

“With Congress under the NRA’s thumb, even after mass shootings in such innocuous places as elementary schools and movie theaters,” Holmes said, “cities and counties are asserting their right to find inventive, legal ways to alleviate the physical and emotional results of the violence.” A $25 gun tax on retailers in Cook County, Illinois, is being collected, and the revenues placed in escrow, while a lawsuit plays out in trial court.

“Gun-fueled tragedies like Sandy Hook, where 20 children and six school staff were slaughtered, ironically result in a stampede to buy even more weapons,” said Holmes, a founding member of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. “It’s a pattern seen over and over again, apparently out of the misplaced fear that government would step in to curtail gun sales.”

“This City acted to control its own destiny,” Holmes said of the ordinance authored by Council President Tim Burgess.

Burgess, after meeting this week with lawyers from the prominent national and international firm, Steptoe & Johnson LLP who are working with City attorneys pro bono, said, “This is a strong legal team to defend the city’s gun violence tax, a common sense step designed to reduce gun violence in Seattle. This tax will allow the City to provide broad-based public benefits related to gun violence. The time is long overdue for the gun industry to stop obstructing and instead take positive steps to address the harm their products cause.”

In June 2013 Seattle became the first U.S. city to provide local government funding for basic gun safety research. The following year the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle delivered a report on the predictors and consequences of firearm violence in King County that found that individuals hospitalized for a firearm injury are 30 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for another firearm injury than people admitted to the hospital for non-injury reasons.

Steptoe’s local counsel is Gordon Tilden Thomas & Cordell. The two firms’ pro bono work for the City debunks the accusation by Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, that, “It’s a shame to see such a waste of public resources on issues the courts have already ruled to be unconstitutional.”

The team from Steptoe, which has a rich history of working without compensation on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties and child trafficking, is directed by William F. Abrams, head of the firm’s Palo Alto, CA, office and a consulting professor at Stanford University. Joining Abrams from Steptoe are Laurie Edelstein, Sarah Jackel and David Kwasniewski.

Abrams said, “Seattle has the right to mitigate the costs of gun violence, which exceeded $12 million at Harborview alone last year, by taxing those who engage in the sale of firearms and ammunition in the City. This tax addresses a public health crisis that imposes a huge financial burden on the City – it does not regulate the sale or use of firearms.”

Kimberly Mills (206) 684-8602
Dana Robinson Slote (206) 615-0061