Shop owners to Tacoma: Firearm and ammo tax will put us ‘out of business’

Bruce Smith got straight to the point when he took to the podium Tuesday night to address Tacoma City Council.

“I’m the Surplus Ammo and Arms of Tacoma manager,” Smith said. “We have 11 employees (who) will be unemployed at the time of which this proposal of taxing firearms and ammunition would be imposed.”

Smith is one of the business owners who says that a proposed firearms and ammunition tax within Tacoma would run him out of business.

“It wouldn’t make any sense for a consumer ... to buy a case of ammo at this store or a rifle at this store when you can simply go a few miles in either direction (outside of city limits),” Smith said.

Miles Demille, co-owner of Bull’s Eye Indoor Shooting Range at 414 Puyallup Ave., also worries about the jobs of the 10 people he employs.

“If this tax goes into effect, I don’t know if I can continue to do business in Tacoma, which means 10 people are out of work,” he told City Council.

The proposal, which passed first reading, creates a tax of $25.00 per firearm, $0.02 per round of ammunition of .22-caliber or less, and $0.05 per round of other ammunition sold at retail.

Money from the taxes, estimated at $30,000 annually, would go toward funding programs that “promote public safety, prevent gun violence and help offset the impacts and costs of gun violence in the city,” according to the proposal.

The city estimates it could take up to $15,000 to initially set up the tax if approved.

Eight to 10 retailers potentially would be subject to the tax and up to nine or 10 pawn brokers, depending on how many firearms they sell. In 2018, the cumulative business and operations tax paid by the retailers and pawnbrokers on all of their sales in Tacoma was $218,000.

City Council will decide whether to approve final reading of the tax on Tuesday, Oct. 29. If approved, the tax would go into effect on Jan. 1.

“I do not pretend to believe that this tax and these revenues are going to solve our gun violence problems in Tacoma,” Council member Ryan Mello said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Mello brought forward the ordinance with Council member Catherine Ushka and Mayor Victoria Woodards as co-sponsors.

“I certainly believe that they will help invest in some of the programs that do make a big difference in our neighborhoods,” Mello said.

Council member Robert Thoms and Woodards are expected to introduce amendments prior to the Oct. 29 meeting that would address manufacturing of guns, defining a firearm to not include the parts or components to make a firearm, in addition to a potential firearm buy-back initiative.

Aero Precision, a firearm manufacturer in Tacoma that employs more than 400 people, wrote in a Facebook post that it does not support a tax, even if amendments are brought forth.

“We stand strong in opposition with the National Shooting Sports Foundation and our local dealers and customers that will be affected by this tax, and we will be forced to explore our options if the Tacoma City Council does vote this in to place,” the company stated.

‘Out of business’

Standing inside his 550-square-foot shop Thursday afternoon, Dan Davies, who co-owns Mary’s Pistols with his wife, Mary, tried to make sense of the proposed tax he said would be the end of his business.

“I won’t survive six months if they put this in place,” Davies said.

Dan and Mary Davies stand inside their business, Mary’s Pistols, at 4040 S Tyler St. in Tacoma. The Davies’ say Tacoma’s proposed firearm and ammunition tax will cause their 15-year shop to go out of business. Oct. 24, 2019 Allison Needles aneedles@thenewstribune.com

Davies opened the store at 4040 S. Tyler St. in Tacoma 15 years ago and said the tax proposal took him by surprise.

“Why are they putting this burden on me?” Davies said. “... Of course I have to take it personally, because this is my livelihood.”

Davies’ business alone pays more than $1,200 per year on business and operations taxes. That’s not accounting for other state taxes, he said.

“The margins are paper thin. The margins on firearms is nothing,” Davies said. “They’re taking away what little I have.”

Smith has operated Surplus Ammo at 102 Puyallup Ave. since 2011, previously in Lakewood. He echoes that the profits in selling firearms are slim.

“All they’re going to do is put the gun shops out of business,” he said.

Mello told The News Tribune that he’s sympathetic to those who say their business will be impacted and doesn’t want anyone to go out of business or lose their jobs.

He added that he hopes other jurisdictions will make the same move.

“There’s federal and state preemption in what we can and cannot do related to common sense gun reform,” Mello said at Tuesday’s meeting. “So while we watch year in and year out with federal inaction, I am very sincere and serious when I say we need to be having these conversations and take leadership at the local level.”

Davies agrees that gun violence is a serious issue but says the tax is misguided.

“What guns do is really ugly — I’m not challenging that,” Davies said. “But if we educate the youth of America, show them what they do, education them on safe handling, we could do away with a lot of negligent shootings.”