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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Gun and ammunition taxes

A February 2013 article in Governing magazine - "Gun Taxes and State Revenues" by Lemov, notes that some states are proposing and even enacting taxes on guns and/or bullets. Last fall, Cook County in Illinois enacted a new $25 tax per gun sold in the county in shops (see Chicago Sun-Times article of 11/9/12).

On a recent MST exam, I asked students to apply a few principles of good tax policy to a proposal to impose a tax on bullets. A few students came up to me to ask for clarification of what the tax was because it seemed so odd.

Is it odd to impose a tax on guns or bullets.  A tax on guns sounds simpler and more administrable, assuming it is imposed on businesses that sell guns.  To try to collect it on non-business sales would be challenging, but not impossible if the gun also needs to be registered. A tax on bullets can be a bit more challenging, but again, can be imposed on the manufacturer or the retailer.

Exemptions seem appropriate for law enforcement agency purchases.

Why are some jurisdictions considering them? As noted in the Governing article, jurisdictions incur costs due to gun violence and the tax can help cover the costs and perhaps reduce gun sales.

Why is the Cook County tax only $25 per gun?  Why not higher? Of course, too high and only the wealthy can buy guns and those who can't afford the tax will find other ways to acquire the weapons.

And, there needs to be a self-assessment requirement for individuals who go outside of the jurisdiction to buy a gun.  That adds complexity unless the gun already needs to be registered in which case the tax can be collected at that point.

The gun tax is contrary to what I call a tax oddity in a few jurisdictions - a sales tax holiday on guns!

What do you think about these types of taxes?

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