California lawmakers have voted to impose a new tax on the sale of guns and ammunition in the state, which would be used to fund gun violence prevention programs and security improvements at public schools. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat from Encino, cleared the California Senate on Thursday, September 7, 2023, and now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The proposed tax would be 11%, matching the highest tax imposed by the federal government on guns. The federal government already taxes the sale of guns and ammunition nationwide and gives that money to the states, which spend it on wildlife conservation and hunter safety programs. Most states do not have a special tax just for guns, except for Pennsylvania, which collects a $3 surcharge on gun sales and uses the money to pay for background checks.
The new tax would not apply to people who buy guns. Instead, the state would make the businesses that sell guns and ammunition pay the tax. However, most of the time businesses will raise prices to cover the cost of the tax. The tax would not apply to police officers and it would not apply to businesses with sales of less than $5,000 over a three-month period.
Why is the tax needed? Supporters of the bill argue that the tax is needed to address the rising problem of gun violence in California, especially in schools. They say that the money raised by the tax would pay for violence prevention programs and school security improvements, such as mental health services, counseling, conflict resolution, and emergency preparedness.
“Don’t let politics stand in the way of saving the lives of our children and providing mental health care in our school districts,” Democratic state Sen. Anthony Portantino said. “Fear should not be on the brow of a parent when they send their kids to school.”
California lawmakers voted today to raise taxes on guns and ammunition to fund gun violence prevention and public school safety:
California lawmakers voted today to raise taxes on guns and ammunition and use the money to pay for gun violence prevention programs and security improvements at public schools.https://t.co/0iwnxkoqvH
— FOX26 News (@KMPHFOX26) September 7, 2023
According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group, there have been 2,909 incidents of gun violence in California in 2023 so far, resulting in 1,251 deaths and 2,127 injuries. Of those incidents, 31 involved mass shootings, defined as four or more people shot or killed in a single event. In addition, there have been 10 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in California in 2023 so far, resulting in two deaths and six injuries.
How do opponents react? Opponents of the bill argue that the tax is unfair and unconstitutional, as it infringes on the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment. They say that the tax would disproportionately affect law-abiding gun owners and retailers while doing little to deter criminals from obtaining guns illegally. “It’s a poll tax. It’s a tax on exercising a constitutional right,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, who opposes the tax.
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Some opponents also question the effectiveness of the programs that would be funded by the tax, saying that they are not proven to reduce gun violence or improve school safety. They also point out that California already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, such as background checks, waiting periods, magazine capacity limits, and assault weapon bans.
What are the next steps? The bill has already passed both chambers of the California Legislature, but it still needs to be signed by Gov. Newsom before it becomes law. It is unclear if Newsom will sign it into law or veto it. Newsom has opposed some high-profile tax increase proposals in recent years, but he has also been on a crusade to improve gun safety, signing a law last year that lets private citizens enforce the state’s ban on assault weapons by filing civil lawsuits against anyone who distributes the weapons, parts that can be used to build the weapons, guns without serial numbers, or .50-caliber rifles.
If Newsom signs the bill into law, it will take effect on January 1st, 2024. The state Department of Justice would be responsible for collecting and distributing the tax revenue to eligible entities through a competitive grant process. The bill also requires an annual report on how the money is spent and what outcomes are achieved.