Some states move to increase gun taxes, others aim to eliminate - WSMV Channel 4

States using taxes to implement their own 'gun control' laws

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Ammunition tax increases have been proposed in several states, but would not apply to firing ranges.  (WJZ/CNN) Ammunition tax increases have been proposed in several states, but would not apply to firing ranges. (WJZ/CNN)

(RNN) – While the federal government grapples over national gun control, several states are entering the debate by raising or lowering taxes on guns and ammunition. The results reflect the stark philosophical divide over gun rights in America.

"There's a real war going on between the two sides over what kind of culture we're going to have around guns," said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and author of Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

"Some states are doing everything they can to make it easier to get guns; some states are doing everything they can to make it a little harder, including ammunition," he added.

States attempting to tighten gun control say they want to reduce gun violence. The states wanting to loosen gun restrictions think lower taxes will lead to an economic boon.

States that have passed or are considering taxes on ammunition include California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Nevada. The proposals range from as low as 2 cents per round in Nevada to a 50 percent sales tax in Maryland.

Connecticut lawmakers also proposed a 50 percent tax on ammunition, but it did not make the final cut of a far-reaching gun control bill that passed the state house last Wednesday and Gov. Dannel Malloy signed into law a day later. The bill includes ammunition magazine restrictions, tougher background checks and more restrictions on assault weapons.

Lawmakers who favor the higher taxes say the increased revenues will help fund mental health services and programs helping to curb and cope with gun violence.

"This legislation is meant to offer treatment to those who need it in the pursuit of both decreasing gun violence and creating a healthier society overall," Maryland Delegate Jon S. Cardin told the Cumberland Times-News. Cardin's outlook is shared by several other state politicians who favor higher taxes on ammunition.

At the other end of the spectrum are several states that are considering legislation to weaken gun restrictions. Among them are Kentucky, where State Rep. Bob Damron, a Democrat, has proposed a controversial bill that would "not recognize federal statutes and regulations that deny or abridge the right to keep and bear arms," according to openstates.org.

In stark contrast to the states hoping to raise taxes on guns, Alabama State Rep. Wes Long, a Republican, wants to eliminate the state tax on ammunition. He says this will result in increased revenue from out-of-state hunters coming to Alabama to buy their gear.

An economic opportunity for 'gun-friendly' states?

Long's proposal is mathematically risky in Alabama, which is among the poorest states in the country and hungry for revenue. He estimates that the state would lose $5 million in tax revenue, which he hopes will be made up by increased revenue in other areas, mainly hunting.

But for that to happen, the total tax revenue from all hunting activities would have to increase by more than 20 percent just to make up for the lost $5 million, according to hunting revenue statistics by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

But increased revenue is not the only reason Long hopes to eliminate ammunition tax.

Several gun manufacturers in states advocating tighter gun laws have warned that they might pack their bags if those laws get too strict.

"It's hard enough to do business in Connecticut in general," said the CEO of Stag Arms, according to WFSB. "It's going to be even harder to if such laws get passed."

If they do leave, Long wants them to come to Alabama.

"I think [the bill] says to the company that 'I don't have to worry about the government putting me out of business and condemning what I do,'" Long said, adding that Alabama's anti-union laws are also attractive to manufacturers.

"It tells them that 'these guys support us and I don't have to worry about politics getting in the way of my business model,'" he added.

Long says prices have become too high and restrict people's rights to bear arms.

"I think the Second Amendment doesn't offer much protection if you don't have ammunition," Long said.

He has even nicknamed his bill the "Second Amendment tax cut."

Long's attempt to create legislation that attracts gun manufacturers is part of a trend among "gun-friendly" states to woo gun manufacturers away from states with heavy gun restrictions.

After Colorado passed a new set of gun laws, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to Magpul Industries, the largest gun manufacturer in the Rocky Mountain state, urging the company to relocate to the Lone Star state.

In Alaska, a Facebook page urged Magpul to move north.

Conservatives in New Hampshire also sent invitations to Beretta, a gun manufacturer with a factory in Maryland, inviting the company to move its operations, as well.

A newspaper in New Hampshire harshly criticized the move in an editorial.

"The slaughter of innocents in Newtown is seen by a group of conservative legislators not as grounds for increased gun restrictions but as a potential economic development tool," said an editorial in the Valley News, a New Hampshire newspaper.

Philosophical disagreement leaves unfinished problems

The "war" that Winkler describes as happening in the current gun debate is seen in the varying law proposals, but its roots are in the different philosophies behind the right to bear arms. For many anti-gun control advocates, the belief is that not only is any gun restriction a degree of infringement on the Second Amendment, but that restrictions or taxes will never have positive effects on safety.

Don Kates, a former law professor who has been hugely influential in shaping pro-gun ideology says extra taxes on ammunition would be unlikely to affect on gun violence.

"If somebody really wanted to kill somebody, do you think an extra $1.50 for a bullet is going to stop him?" Kates asked rhetorically.

Kates, whose work was cited by Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark Supreme Court case that strengthened the individual's right to bear arms, also opposes using gun and ammo taxes to fund mental health or anti-violence campaigns.

"It would be perfectly viable to fund those programs through a general fund, but there's no reason to burden gun owners specifically," he said.

However, the total financial cost of deaths by firearms was $37 billion in 2005, the last year for which numbers are available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The total includes the medical and work-loss costs for all deaths by firearms, including accidents, suicides, and homicides.

And each year, more than 31,000 people are killed by guns in the U.S., including 19,000 due to suicide and 11,000 deaths due to gun homicide, according to the CDC.

How to deal with those costs appears to remain a political battle.

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