The city of Seattle spent more to defend a lawsuit against its gun tax than it gathered in revenue from the tax, a gun-rights group claimed on Friday.
King County Superior Court Judge Lori K. Smith ruled in favor of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) on Friday in a Public Records Act suit over Seattle's refusal to disclose the exact amount of revenue collected through their "gun violence tax." The gun-rights group filed suit after the city refused to fulfill a public record request from Dave Workman, editor of SAF-owned TheGunMag.com. The group said the real revenue numbers revealed in court documents appear to fall short of the city's projections.
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"We are delighted with the outcome of this case," Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder and publisher of TheGunMag.com, said. "It was silly for Seattle to withhold this information, but we're pretty certain why the city did it. The council was told that this tax could generate between $300,000 and a half-million dollars, but now it appears the city has collected just over $100,000, which is an embarrassing shortfall."
The tax, which works out to $25 per firearm and 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition, has thus far generated no more than $108,013.04, according to court documents. During the discovery portion of the suit, Seattle's lawyers revealed that a single gun seller accounted for more than 80 percent of the gun-tax revenue. Michael Coombs, co-owner of Outdoor Emporium, said in a separate court filing that he is that gun seller and his tax payments revealed the city's highest possible revenue.
"When Seattle’s statements are compared with Outdoor Emporium’s $86,410.43 tax payment for 2016, it is mathematically certain that Outdoor Emporium is the retailer that has paid more than 80 percent of the firearm and ammunition tax," Coombs said in the filing. "If Outdoor Emporium paid at least 80 percent of the total collected for the firearm and ammunition tax, then it is likely that Seattle did not collect more than $108,013.04 ($86,410.43 / .80 = $108.013.04). This is $200,000 to $400,000 less than Seattle claimed it would make from this tax."
SAF said the legal costs and penalty that Seattle will be forced to pay in the case will amount to more than the revenue the tax brought in.
"The city has essentially lost money on this scheme because now they have to pay our attorney fees, plus a small penalty," Gottlieb said. "On top of that, the city has lost tax revenue because one major gun dealer has moved out of the city and another has reported considerable sales losses. That is tax money the city will never realize."
Workman said the ruling was an important First Amendment victory. "For me, this was always a First Amendment issue," he said. "The city adopted a controversial tax for questionable reasons, and the public has a right to know how much the city collected."
The Seattle City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.