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August 27, 2013

U.S. House Bill Would Heavily Tax the Law-Abiding


If nothing else, anti-gun politicians are diligent recyclers.

Last week, Chicagoland Congressman Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Representative Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) introduced legislation, H.R. 3018, to levy an additional nationwide tax of 20 percent on firearms and 50 percent on Ammunition. The bill, given the misleading title of Gun Violence Prevention and Safe Communities Act of 2013, would direct the revenues from the increased taxes toward anti-gun research and law enforcement. It is the latest in a long and seemingly endless series of proposals at the local, state and federal levels to impose punitive taxes on the exercise of citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Guns and ammunition are both already subject to a federal excise tax, with those revenues directed towards wildlife conservation and sportsmen’s access programs. Under the current system, the tax revenue generated from the sales of firearms and ammunition are going back towards programs supported by those paying the taxes. Under H.R. 3018, millions of law-abiding gun owners would face enormous taxes on legally-purchased products to pay for the misdeeds of the few who misuse guns illegally.

The difference between the existing tax and Rep. Davis’ “violence tax” is that his proposed tax is meant to be punitive. Where current federal firearms and ammunition excise tax revenues are used to raise funds for a positive program supported by those paying the tax, this new legislation is designed to purely punish those purchasers and discourage buying of guns and ammunition. Reps. Davis and Pascrell want to constitutionally make it prohibitively expensive for citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

If passed, it appears that this legislation would greatly decrease sales and thereby devastate the wildlife conservation funding now made possible by the Pittman-Robinson Act. We say “appears” because the language is so unclear.

Rep. Davis believes the law is necessary because in his own words, “Gun violence exacts a tremendous price from our citizens, our governments, and the public health of our nation.” He wants millions of lawful gun owners to be punished for the actions of a few criminals. The fact of the matter is that in the U.S. overall, violent crimes are on a downward trajectory and have been for many years, while the exercise of the Second Amendment – gun sales – have been increasing.

The City of Chicago, represented in Congress by Mr. Davis, is one of the few negative spots in this trend. Chicago has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, yet is home to some of the highest numbers of violent crimes. This year on Independence Day weekend, 62 people were shot and injured in Chicago alone. As we noted in the past, Chicagoland has tried this type of taxation scheme on a local level before. It doesn’t seem to be working.

The power to tax is the power to destroy. H.R. 3018 is just another misguided and misdirected attempt to destroy the Second Amendment. While we don’t expect that this bill will go anywhere in this Congress, we have an alternate proposal. Perhaps there should instead be a tax on the sponsorship of unwise, unconstitutional legislation.

Larry Keane is senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @lkeane.