California, Connecticut Legislatures Consider Taxing Firearms and Ammunition

Published February 19, 2019

California legislators are considering a bill to raise the cost of gun ownership by hiking taxes on firearms, and Connecticut legislators are considering raising the state’s sales tax on ammunition by 50 percent. California Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae) introduced Assembly Bill 18, which would impose an excise tax on the sale of handguns and semiautomatic weapons, which are already subject to sales taxes, and allocate the money to the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program.

Connecticut state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest (D-Hartford) introduced HB 5700 in January to raise the state’s tax on ammunition sales.

Regulations on Ammo Sales

The California firearms tax proposal comes on the heels of a state law requiring licensed firearms dealers to check, using the Automated Firearms System, the eligibility of a consumer to buy ammunition each time that consumer purchases ammunition.

There is a $1 fee paid by the consumer every time he or she buys ammunition. Under the new law, the sale will be denied if an individual is not in the Automated Firearms System because he or she has not purchased a firearm or received a permit requiring a background check. The individual will also be denied if the person is in the system but the record shows he or she is ineligible to possess a firearm.

Sales by non-dealers are limited to 50 rounds per month. Regulations implementing the requirements will go into effect July 1.

‘Excessive and Expensive’

The California law requiring background checks on ammunition purchases is an excessive burden on gun owners, says Lennie Jarratt, project manager for the Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute.

“Firearm owners already underwent a background check when they purchased their firearm,” said Jarratt. “It is excessive and expensive to require one for each ammunition purchase.

“This law is like forcing every driver to verify their license and insurance before each fill-up at the gas station while charging a fee for the verification,” Jarratt said.

‘Backdoor Assault’ on Rights

Politicians are trying hard to undermine Second Amendment rights without overtly banning guns, which the Constitution prohibits, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute.

“These taxes and conditions for ammunition purchases are a backdoor assault on the Second Amendment,” said Burnett.

“Unable to constitutionally prevent nonprohibited citizens from purchasing firearms, these legislators are doing the next best thing, from their point of view: trying to prevent people from exercising their right to legally use firearms, by making ammunition unaffordable,” Burnett said.

‘Disproportionate Effect’

These state laws have the worst impact on the most vulnerable in society because the additional costs have a disproportionate effect on lower-income firearms owners, says economist John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

“You may not stop a wealthy white person who lives in the suburbs, but the very people that my research indicates benefit the most from owning guns are people who are most likely to be the victims of violent crimes, like poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas,” said Lott.

“Five-hundred dollars may make a big difference between whether they will be able to defend themselves and their families,” Lott said.

Joe Barnett ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.