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CT gun owners and advocates against gun violence debate proposed 35% tax on ammunition

Ammo. (Maxpexel/Released)

Gun owners and advocates against gun violence packed a public hearing Thursday to debate a bill that would impose a 35% tax on ammunition sales to fund gun violence prevention programs in Connecticut.

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, said the point of her proposal was not to deter ammunition purchases, but to increase funding for “evidence-based violence intervention and prevention programs” in Connecticut’s cities, not gun control advocacy groups.

Citing a congressional report, she said the annual cost of gun violence in Connecticut amounts to $1.2 billion. That includes health care, criminal justice costs and lost wages. It averages out to $333 per Connecticut resident, she said.

Gilchrest estimated the tax would generate about $7 million, with an exemption for law enforcement officers, correction officials and military personnel.

Rather than debating the need for gun violence prevention in the state, discussion at the public hearing centered around the fairness of taxing ammunition at a high rate and whether or not such a tax would actually accomplish its goal of increasing funding.

Dana Morrow, a resident of Sterling, said his rural community seemed to be “forgotten” by the proposal. The Connecticut resident of 30 years took issue with the fact that the ammunition tax would fund violence prevention in major cities, when his own town is barely protected by the state police.

“The need for ammunition and being able to practice firearm safety is inherent for where I live,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of a nearby police force … [the tax] is not doing me any good and it’s not fair.”

Gilchrest countered the sentiment of unfairness shared by the bill’s opponents.

“Nearly all firearms that fall into the hands of criminals enter circulation through a legal purchase,” she said. “Asking law-abiding gun owners to pay more to help reduce and prevent gun violence is both fair and logical.”

She added that gun violence disproportionately impacts low-income communities, and “doing nothing to address this problem is worse for low-income communities than charging an extra $3.50 for a box of 50 rounds.”

The Connecticut chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, who wrote in support of the bill, said usage fees are common for products that “have a potential of harmful effects to others.”

“Excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol and gas are prime examples where the state raises funds to defray the costs associated with product usage,” said the group. “This bill takes this same approach.”

Mark W. Anderson, President of the Connecticut Republican Assembly, likened the bill to the plastic bag tax, stating, “little revenue will be raised for gun violence and prevention.”

“Gun owners can legally buy ammunition in other nearby states and avoid this tax,” he said in a written testimony, adding that the bill would harm Connecticut businesses.

Gilchrest said 35% was her starting point for discussion and she would be open to conversation about revising the rate so that “most people would not spend the time and money to cross state lines for ammunition.”

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving praised the bill’s “thoughtful approach to raising much needed funding to support neighborhood-based gun violence prevention and reduction services in the communities most impacted by this devastating cycle of violence.”

The foundation, which has funded a variety of programs to reduce gun violence in the Hartford area, stressed the importance of public financial support.

“Philanthropy and cannot and should not fund this work alone,” the foundation wrote. “Effective, sustainable and measurable prevention efforts requires public commitment, public policy, and public dollars.”

The gun ownership rate in Connecticut is about 16%. Currently, there is an 10% federal excise tax on the import and retail sale of pistols and revolvers, and an 11% tax on other firearms and ammunition.

Democrats in Congress introduced a similar bill in 2018 following the deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that would have imposed a 50% federal tax on ammunition. However, it did not progress.

Gun and ammunition excise taxes also vary locally. Seattle, Washington, has a $25 per gun tax, as well as a $0.02 or $0.05 tax per round of ammunition. Gilchrest said such excise taxes are also being discussed in New Jersey.


© 2020 The Hartford Courant