When the City of Seattle passed a tax on all sales of guns and ammunition, the measure was hailed as a way to defray the rising costs of gun violence.
But since the tax took effect, those costs have only risen as gun violence in the city has surged. And the tax has apparently brought in much less than city leaders projected it would.
“How much data do you need?” asked Dave Workman, senior editor of TheGunMag.com and member of the Second Amendment Foundation. “The data says the law has failed to prevent what they promised it would prevent.”
Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess introduced the tax in 2015. It puts a $25 tax on every firearm sold in the city and up to 5 cents per round of ammunition. The measure easily passed and took effect January 1, 2016. Comparing the first five months of 2017 with the same period before the gun tax went into effect, reports of shots fired are up 13 percent, the number of people injured in shootings climbed 37 percent and gun deaths doubled, according to crime statistics from the Seattle Police Department.
Councilman Burgess never returned calls and emails for comment. Dana Robinson Slote, director of communication for Seattle City Council, said she was “politely declining your invitation for an interview.”
In selling his gun tax to the public, Burgess predicted it would generate between $300,000 and $500,000 annually. The money would be used to study the root causes of gun violence in hopes of reducing the costs to taxpayers.
Seattle officials refuse to say how much the tax brought in the first year, only giving the number “under $200,000.” Gun rights groups have sued to get the exact amount.
But Mike Coombs, owner of Outdoor Emporium, the last large gun dealer left in Seattle, said the actual tax revenue is almost certainly just over $100,000, a figure based on information he says the city shared with his lawyers.
Coombs said storewide, sales are down 20 percent while gun sales have plummeted 60 percent.
“I’ve had to lay off employees because of this,” Coombs said. “It’s hurting us, it’s hurting our employees.”
Employees at the Big 5 sporting goods stores in Seattle also report anemic gun sales. But there’s evidence Seattleites are just going outside the city to buy their guns. Coombs also owns a gun shop in the nearby city of Fife. Sales there are described as robust.
Another gun dealer simply left Seattle and moved his shop, Precise Shooter, to nearby Lynnwood. Sergey Solyanik said business has never been better. He said the gun tax has probably worked out to be a net negative for Seattle when factoring lost sales tax revenue.
The money that has been raised by the gun tax is sitting in a holding account during the legal battle. But Seattle has dipped into its general fund to support the gun violence research study at Harborview Medical Center. Seattle paid a total of $550,000 for the study aimed at connecting gunshot victims with social services in hopes of not seeing them in the emergency room again.
“There’s a great deal of recidivism,” said Dr. Fred Rivara, a professor at the University of Washington’s pediatrics department who is directing the research. “These individuals are much more likely to come back with other gunshot wounds, to commit subsequent crimes, violent crime, to be murdered.”
Unfortunately, the researchers have had no shortage of gunshot victims to help and study. Seattle police say the increase in shootings seems to be tied to the drug trade – and revenge. Allison Anderman with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports gun taxes, said calling the gun tax and gun violence study failures is way too premature.
“The causes of gun violence are very complex,” Anderman said. “To say this one study is lacking because it hasn’t solved the problem of gun violence in Seattle is, frankly, laughable.”
Dave Workman doesn’t criticize the study, but he does think the city council should have predicted the results of the gun tax, such as gun dealers leaving with no drop in gun ownership. As for the gun violence, he says that too should not surprise anyone.
“All these gun control laws affect the wrong people,” Workman said. “The gang bangers don’t go in and buy ammunition at retail, at least not around here. It certainly hasn’t stopped them from getting their hands on firearms.”