- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - A proposed gun and ammunition sales tax could make Seattle the second major U.S. metropolitan area to use taxes as an approach to prevent gun violence.

The proposed tax had its first hearing before a City Council committee Wednesday. Seattle’s proposal would help pay for the costs of gun violence and support research on prevention.

It mirrors a law that took effect in Cook County, Illinois, in April 2013. In the county surrounding Chicago, a $25 gun tax was designed to raise money to offset the cost of gun violence.

“Taxpayers in Seattle pay for millions of dollars in emergency medical care every year for people who have been shot,” City Council President Tim Burgess said in a statement. “It’s time for the gun industry to chip in to help defray these costs.”

The direct medical costs of treating 253 gunshot victims at Harborview Medical Center in 2014 totaled more than $17 million. Taxpayers paid more than $12 million of that cost, according to Burgess’ proposal.

The national Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence does not track local ordinances or taxes in particular because the group does not consider them effective at preventing gun violence, staff attorney Allison Anderman said.

“The idea that someone can afford a gun and not a $25 tax so therefore they’re not going to buy a gun doesn’t make sense to me,” Anderman said.

However, her group supports the aim of the proposal, to raise money for gun violence research, since Congress has blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from supporting gun research.

Both supporters and opponents of the Seattle proposal expect it to face a legal challenge if it passes the City Council, as Washington is one of 43 states with laws that restrict local gun ordinances.

Seattle voters helped carry a statewide initiative adopting universal background checks for all gun purchases last fall. Similar new background check requirements passed the Oregon Legislature this year.

The Seattle gun tax attracted applause from grannies and other activists and concerns from gun shop owners at its first hearing on Wednesday.

The shop owners told the Seattle City Council’s Education and Governance Committee that the proposal for a $25 tax on every firearm sale and 5 cents for every round of ammunition sold would send their customers out of the city and attract few new tax dollars.

City officials estimate that the new tax would collect between $300,000 and $500,000 a year, but gun shop owners and managers told council members they expect those numbers are inflated and that the law would cost them both customers and sales.

Activists told the council they didn’t care about the tax money and feel the proposal could help combat gun violence.

Between 2006 and 2010, there were, on average, 131 firearms deaths a year in King County, according to Public Health-Seattle and King County. Another 536 individuals required hospitalization for nonfatal firearm injuries during the five-year period.

Both side of the tax issue seem to agree on a second Burgess proposal requiring mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms. Anderman said her group would enthusiastically endorse that idea, which she says has been shown to prevent gun trafficking between states.

Judy McBroom of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence spoke in favor of the gun tax on behalf of her three grandchildren.

“We want our grandchildren to live in a safer, saner world,” said McBroom, who is vice president of the group formed after the mass shooting in 2012 at Sand Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Some Seattle residents who spoke in favor of the proposal said they were gun owners who believed in firearms safety.

But Phil Watson of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms told council members it doesn’t matter what people believe because both state and U.S. constitutions prohibit city gun laws.

Watson also questioned the city’s interpretation of data on gun violence. “The city has a crime problem, not a gun problem,” he said.

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