Tacoma City Council approves tax on firearms and ammunition

Tacoma City Council voted 8-0 to approve a firearms and ammunition tax Tuesday night.

The tax is $25 per firearm sold at retail, $.02 per round of ammunition that contains a single projectile that measures .22 caliber or less sold at retail, and $.05 per round of ammunition for all other ammunition sold at retail.

The tax goes into effect on July 1, 2020 and is expected to raise $30,000 annually to fund violence prevention programs.

Council member Catherine Ushka said passing the tax is playing “the long game” in addressing gun violence reduction.

“It gives a signal to other municipalities that it’s something that they can do,” Ushka said Tuesday night.

“It is not the end of the road — it is one step we can do at the local level to sustained funding,” added Council member Ryan Mello.

The approved ordinance also includes language brought forward by Council member Keith Blocker to “conduct a review” of the tax and its effect on businesses and business-and-occupation revenue generated to determine if the council “should consider repealing the tax” in the future.

Council member Lillian Hunter directed City Manager Elizabeth Pauli to convene a “Gun Violence Reduction Workgroup comprised of representatives from Tacoma Public Schools, Tacoma-based firearms manufacturers and retailers, community partners, and city staff to review approaches to address gun violence.”

The council also passed amendments to the tax.

One amendment, proposed by Mayor Victoria Woodards and tax sponsors Mello and Ushka, clarifies that the tax would not apply to “parts or components” of a firearm, giving relief to manufacturers.

The second, proposed by Council member Robert Thoms, recommends using the “funds raised from this tax to assist in developing and implementing a gun buy-back program.”

The council chambers was standing-room only the night of the vote. Many spoke out against the tax during public comment.

Some worried that the tax would only hurt responsible and low-income gun owners and those trying to protect themselves and won’t decrease crime. They asked for council to instead asked for stricter enforcement of laws already on the books.

“Everyday firearms protect life. It’s our personal protection,” Jane Milhans, a local certified firearm instructor, said during public comment.

Employees from Aero Precision, a manufacturer of firearms in Tacoma that employs more than 400, came to speak in opposition.

“This type of regressive tax really impacts our ability to be competitive,” Aero Precision CEO Scott Dover said during public comment.

One Aero Precision employee said no one from the council had ever reached out prior to the tax proposal.

“We were a ghost to all of you. No one even knew we existed,” he said.

A handful of people spoke in support of the tax, including those from Students Demand Action, Alliance for Gun Responsibility, and Pierce County Moms Demand Action.

“We have to do something,” said one speaker.

Councilman Conor McCarthy was absent Tuesday.