Wednesday, February 10 , 2016, 11:09 am | Fair 74º

George Runner: California Bullet Tax Would Backfire

By George Runner |

If you want to grow government these days, it seems the fashionable thing to do is invent new taxes. Two years ago, legislators conjured up an illegal fire “fee.” Last year, they invented a confusing new lumber tax. Two voter-approved multibillion-dollar tax hikes later, and the politicians still want more of your money. This time they want to tax your ammunition.

George Runner
George Runner

Two lawmakers — Assemblymembers Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and Rob Bonta, D-Alameda — are authoring legislation to impose a nickel-per-bullet tax on the sale of ammunition in California. Apparently they couldn’t agree on where to spend the revenue, so each lawmaker is introducing his own measure.

A nickel per bullet may not sound like much, but it will mean that each box of 100 shells purchased by a hunter or recreational shooter will cost $5 more. Double that number if both proposed bills pass.

Guns and ammunition are a convenient scapegoat for the tragic loss of life in recent shootings, but more gun laws and higher taxes won’t stop crime. In fact, increased laws and taxes could backfire by leaving law-abiding citizens defenseless and creating a lucrative new source of revenue for criminal gangs.

Consider cigarettes, for instance. Taxes may have discouraged smoking, which is a good thing, but they’ve also created a huge market for smugglers. A recent study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that more than one-third of cigarettes smoked in California were smuggled into our state. Not coincidentally, the state with the highest cigarette taxes, New York, had the highest smuggling rate: 60.9 percent.

The social costs of smuggling include health and safety risks, increased law enforcement expense and higher crime.

An ammunition tax will backfire, and the reason is simple: Evading a new tax on bullets will be a piece of cake. California consumers will simply stop buying ammunition at local gun stores and instead start buying it online from out-of-state stores that don’t have to collect California taxes.

True, these consumers will still owe use tax on these purchases, but few will pay it — and enforcement will be difficult and, in most cases, cost-prohibitive.

State coffers will see little to no additional revenue, but many California small businesses will suffer greatly as ammunition sales shift to their out-of-state competitors.

It won’t be the first time a new tax fails to yield the promised revenue. Supporters projected that a 2008 malt liquor tax would raise $41 million for the state. Actual revenue was less than $200,000, because most manufacturers simply reformulated their products. Tax policy has consequences.

Another reason to oppose new taxes and fees is that California already has too many. As a taxpayer advocate and elected member of the California Board of Equalization, I oversee the administration and collection of more than 30 tax and fee programs — such as sales taxes, fuel taxes and tire fees — that impose upon nearly every aspect of life. Each new tax or fee inevitably grows the state workforce and costs millions of taxpayer dollars to administer and enforce.

Speaking of enforcement, California already has some of the strictest and most complicated gun laws in the nation. The problem is we don’t do a very good job enforcing those laws with the billions in taxes Californians already pay.

At a recent legislative hearing, the Attorney General’s Office reported that it lacks the resources to enforce existing laws prohibiting felons and other dangerous individuals from owning weapons. Nearly 20,000 people identified by the Armed Prohibited Persons System are in illegal possession of firearms, but there aren’t nearly enough investigators to keep up. And the backlog grows daily.

It’s not a question of whether Californians are paying enough taxes — we clearly are. It’s the state’s spending priorities that are out of whack.

We don’t need a bullet tax, and we don’t need more and tax and fee programs. Legislators simply need to stop enacting new laws that chase law-abiding taxpayers and jobs out of our state, and instead start prioritizing the enforcement of laws we already have on the books.

George Runner represents Santa Barbara County as the Second District member of the California Board of Equalization. The opinions expressed are his own.

» on 02.06.13 @ 10:12 PM

Get your hands out of my pockets politicians!

» on 02.07.13 @ 01:31 PM

A nickle-a-bullet isn’t enough.

It should be $1 per bullet.

Guns aren’t the problem - bullets are! Let the “gun nuts” have their weapons - just charge them to fire.

BTW, everybody - including “illegals”, felons, gang bangers, murderers, robbers, thieves, and other low-lifes with a gun would all be paying for the ammunition use.

It’s a good idea and one that would definitely cut way down on gun crime and murder.

As far as hunters and other “so-called” gun enthusiasts are concerned, let them pay for the “opportunity” to make noise.

» on 02.07.13 @ 03:06 PM

Bruce, all that will do is create another criminal black market. I cannot believe how stupid and naïve you anti gun zealots are. You are right though, guns aren’t the problem, but the real problem is the one you refuse to face, the hand holding the gun.

» on 02.07.13 @ 06:38 PM

I’m against any new tax. Here’s why. I’m a self-employed artisan less than 50 grand a year. Here’s the tax load: 15% Federal Income Tax, 15.3% Social Security Tax (even tho I am one person, I’m considered an employee and an employer. Cute, huh?), 11% State Income Tax, 9% sales tax for a total of around 50%. This does not include the fees for this and the fees for that, fee fee fa fee fee fee. The bureaucrats will never have enough money to pay for all of their schemes, plans and handout programs, no matter how much we give them they will squander it and act like it’s not enough.

The fact this is for bullets isn’t even relevant, it could be for anything. The answer is no, no and no again. This is the result of running the government like a business- growth and profit being the two most important aspects of a business. Do we want the government to grow? I don’t. To make a profit? No. So we should run it like a government, not a business.

» on 02.09.13 @ 11:33 AM

Bullets aren’t that hard to make. My dad made his own all the time. I’d support a bullet tax, but its effects would be limited. It probably wouldn’t stop much crime, other than crimes of passion, but it might stop some suicides.
It seems to me that anything we can do to reduce gun crime and violence would be worth doing or at least considering. Just because it doesn’t eliminate it altogether doesn’t mean it’s a stupid idea.

» on 02.10.13 @ 03:55 PM

Noleta, I hear what you are saying but trying to keep tools out of someone’s hands is futile and only hurts everyone else. We had this same argument over the suicide barrier on the Cold Springs Bridge. What a colossal waste of money so we could delude ourselves into thinking we were helping.

If we want to stop gun crime, gun violence, gun suicide and gun accidents then we have to concentrate our efforts on the hand that pulls the trigger, not a stupid piece of metal that has no brain and no power to do anything without that hand.

It is a monumental failure of a free society to constantly punish everyone for the sins of a few. We regard our freedom with such an appalling lack of concern that we actually invite totalitarian slavery out of our irrational fear over personal security.

What the anti gun violence people need to do is look at the people holding the gun, not the gun itself. Many other tools can become weapons. A box cutter in the hand of a maniacal suicidal terrorist created a weapon of mass destruction out of a civilian airline. 3000 people died on 9/11/01 and not one gun was used. If you continue to ignore the human, then psychopaths like Lanza will continue to steal overly regulated weapons and murder the innocent and terrorists will continue to massacre using the least expected.

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