(The Center Square) – Washington Democrats’ latest step toward quelling gun violence in the state isn’t limiting access to firearms but making them more expensive to shoot.
Following other states that have proposed it, State Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Bellevue, and Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle, have introduced House Bill 2238 that would impose an 11% sales and use tax on ammunition statewide.
That would be an additional tax on top of the federal, state and local sales and use tax imposed on sales of goods and services. The tax would not apply to sales to state, local or tribal governments in terms of supplying law enforcement agencies with ammunition, according to the bill.
Public safety is the reason given for the introduction of the bill.
“Gun violence remains a persistent health and safety threat for people across our state,” the bill text states. “In Washington, a person is killed by a firearm every 14 hours and nearly half of all suicides are from firearms.”
The bill is similar to California’s Assembly Bill 24, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom and implements an additional 11% tax on guns and ammunition starting July 1, 2024.
Revenue from the proposed tax would go to funding suicide prevention programs, as well as programs to reduce gun-related domestic violence.
HB 2238 creates a new section in current law that reads, “A use tax is levied on every person in this state for the privilege of using ammunition as a consumer at the rate of 11% of the selling price.”
As ammunition is a critical function of owning and operating a firearm, the measure may face constitutional scrutiny.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Furthermore, the Washington State Constitution recognizes “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired…”
The bill sponsors did not respond to questions about the constitutionality of the legislation in time for publication.
Dave Workman, communications director with the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, wasn’t sure such a tax is constitutional under either the federal or state constitutions. Labeling the purchase of ammunition a “privilege” did not sit well with him.
“The idea that the Democrat sponsors consider purchasing ammunition a ‘privilege’ doesn’t surprise me at all, since they seem to consider the *right* to keep and bear arms a privilege on its own,” Workman noted. “They’re trying to create the impression through clever wording.”
He added, “Should it pass, I expect it to be immediately challenged in court.”
As of Monday afternoon, HB 2238 was not scheduled for any committee hearings.
Workman said he “wouldn’t consider this idea dead until the session ends.”
The current 60-day regular legislative session concludes on March 7.