A flack for the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association (NRA) used the Jim Crow-era term “poll tax” to describe a new Seattle ordinance that imposes a tax on the sale of guns and ammunition to fund research on gun violence, which the NRA has challenged in a lawsuit.
On August 10, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a new tax on firearm and ammunition sales. Beginning in January, firearms will be subject to a $25 tax, while most types of ammunition will be taxed at 5 cents per round. Seattle has embraced a research-based approach to preventing gun violence and already has a “hospital-based intervention program for gun violence victims.” Revenue from the new tax will fund additional research. Seattle City Council data shows that in 2014, Seattle taxpayers paid $12 million to cover the direct medical costs of gunshot wounds.
During the August 21 broadcast of the NRA's radio show, Cam & Company, NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) media liaison Lars Dalseide -- who has been attacking the tax in media interviews -- compared the measure to a “poll tax” that is “meant to punish a certain group.”
Dalseide said, “Basically what this really is is a poll tax. It's something to stop people from doing something. I know traditionally here in the states a poll tax is tied to voting, but if you go worldwide, a poll tax is just meant to punish a certain group, and this is exactly what this is doing.”
In the United States, poll taxes were voter registration fees aimed primarily at disenfranchising African-Americans that began during the 19th century following the ratification of the 15th Amendment. Poll taxes also disenfranchised poor people and women in some states. The practice was barred in federal elections by the 24th Amendment and state poll taxes have been found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Outside of the United States, the term “poll tax” is synonymous with a “head tax” -- a fee imposed on certain immigrants depending on their country of origin that was most infamously levied against Chinese immigrants to Canada and New Zealand in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Dalseide's inflammatory comparison ignores the fact that firearm sales are already taxed -- gun and ammunition sales have been subject to a federal excise tax for decades that is used to fund conservation programs.
The NRA -- which is joined in its lawsuit by the Second Amendment Foundation and a gun industry trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) -- says the tax violates a Washington state law limiting the kinds of gun regulations localities can enact. The Seattle City Council contends that the new tax does not regulate firearms and falls within their taxation authority.
In an August 24 NRA-ILA press release, NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane also referred to the tax as “nothing but a 'poll tax' on the Second Amendment...”