Democratic legislators are proposing a 35 percent tax on firearm ammunition, with the generated revenue going to programs they say have been proven to reduce gun violence in urban areas.
Joined by her Democratic colleagues and gun violence prevention advocates, Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, unveiled her proposal during a press conference at the Legislative Office Building on Thursday.
Gilchrest intends to use the revenue from the excise tax to fund on-the-ground operations aimed at connecting with young people before they engage in criminal activity. Any revenue not spent, she said, would be slated for expanding protections at places of worship or other areas focused on limiting firearm-related victims.
Gilchrest said the proposal would cost a few dollars more for a box of 50 bullets, raising about $7 million annually, citing numbers from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.
“Guns do cause gun violence, so we are asking for those who purchase ammunition to pay a little bit extra,” she said, adding that the intent of the bill is to exclude law enforcement officers, corrections staff, and military personnel using ammunition for their occupations.
House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, compared the excise tax to those already in place, such as those on alcohol and tobacco, which are charged on products sold legally but still pose a risk to society.
While he expects pushback from gun enthusiasts and legislators, he plans to move forward with the proposal.
“The underlying reality is that if we had more money for preventative programs we’d have less funerals, we’d have less wakes, we’d have less tragedies in the cities we represent,” Ritter said.
Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Bloomfield, a gun owner, said he understands some people will find the proposal “extreme” and it could “cause a problem” for law-abiding residents, still the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, he said.
“We’re not trying to take guns out of anybody’s hands,” he said, but “as a state, we have to get control of this.”
He and Gilchrest called the bill’s current one-line of language a starting point that will evolve as the session progresses.
Gilchrest noted preventing gun violence would have a financial impact as well as an emotional one, saying that gun violence overall costs the state $1.2 billion each year, without factoring in what the state pays to protect schools and places of worship.
She also scoffed at objections from 2nd Amendment supporters and the National Rifle Association for thwarting firearm reforms.
“When I hear groups like the NRA say that this proposal punishes law-abiding gun owners, I say shame on you,” Gilchrest said. “Those being punished are the victims of gun violence, from Hartford to Newtown.”
Gilchrest praised the daily work by advocacy groups while lamenting the lack of action on the federal level to address gun violence.
“While lawmakers down on Capitol Hill tweet out those thoughts and prayers, it’s these folks who are at the hospital, in the streets, and comforting the devastated victims of gun violence,” she said.
Advocates added that more must be done to address mental health when combating gun violence.
Chelsea Parson, vice president of gun violence prevention for the Washington, D.C.-based Center of American Progress, noted there has been a federal tax on ammunition since the 1940s, but the funds cannot be spent on programs designed to prevent gun violence.
“This bill is intended to address that stunning gap in federal law,” she said. “This is a modest proposal that will generate life-saving revenue for Connecticut communities.”
Parson added that similar laws implemented in other states have been challenged by 2nd Amendment advocates in court, and the laws have been upheld.
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