Almost one year after TheGunMag.com, a monthly print and online firearms news magazine owned by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), sought information from the City of Seattle on its gun and ammunition tax under the Public Records Act, at least two other Seattle news organizations are now asking why the city refuses to provide a revenue figure.
First KING5 News, the local NBC affiliate, and then the Seattle Times this week have raised questions about the city’s continued secrecy. TheGunMag.com (formerly Gun Week), along with SAF, is currently suing the city.
It creates an interesting scenario; a Second Amendment group and firearms-oriented publication litigating a First Amendment issue. TheGunMag.com and its predecessor have a long history of reporting on firearms-related issues. They have national readership.
The argument here seems simple enough. The city is collecting money from a special tax, and the public has a right to know the details. The tax charges $25 per each firearm sold, plus five cents per centerfire cartridge and two cents for each rimfire cartridge. Centerfire ammunition is sold in boxes of 20, 25 or 50, depending upon whether it is rifle, shotgun or pistol ammunition. Rimfires are typically packed 50 or 100 per box.
Thanks to a Seattle Times revelation Thursday, there is ample reason for city taxpayers to be curious.
“Though the money from the (gun) tax isn’t yet being used,” the newspaper reported, “the research it’s intended to fund is moving ahead, with $275,000 that the council allocated for 2016 and 2017 coming out of the city’s general fund.”
Suspicions are growing that the city’s initial revenue projection of $300,000 to $500,000 annually being raised by the tax on firearms and ammunition sales was woefully over-estimated. One of the two major gun retailers in the city – Precise Shooter – has moved north to Lynnwood, so it pays no tax at all anymore. The other, Outdoor Emporium, has previously told Liberty Park Press, TheGunMag.com and other news agencies that sales are way down since imposition of the tax began in 2016.
Another suspicion is that the gun tax was aimed at curtailing gun and ammunition sales in the city and perhaps even discouraging gun stores to operate in the city.
Both KING5 and the Seattle Times have sought the same revenue information, along with the Seattle P-I.com and other news agencies.
In a May 13, 2016 email to TheGunMag.com, Jackie Mitchell with the City of Seattle said taxpayer information “is protected from disclosure per the Seattle Municipal Code…which complies with state law” and would violate taxpayer privacy.
“Additionally,” she continued, “we may be limited in the information we can share regarding the collective returns. With such a small tax base, especially considering only a portion of total taxpayers file quarterly, we run the risk of revealing identifying taxpayer information by releasing any information…”
That is essentially the same response the city has given other news organizations.
Adding to the newsworthiness of this inquiry is the fact that the city is also being sued in a separate action by SAF, the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the two affected retailers who are challenging the tax itself under the state’s 33-year-old preemption law. That statute places sole authority for regulating firearms in the state in the hands of the Legislature, and plaintiffs contend that the tax is a gun control effort. It was that lawsuit and its interest to gun owners nationwide that compelled TheGunMag.com to follow the story.
The city lost once before to SAF and NRA under the preemption law when it tried to ban firearms in city park facilities. The state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously against Seattle when it appealed, and the state Supreme Court declined to review that case, known as Chan v. City of Seattle.