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Judge upholds Seattle gun violence tax

Tax adds $25 to price of each firearm sold in Seattle and 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition, depending on type

A judge upheld Seattle's so-called gun violence tax on Tuesday, rejecting a challenge from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups.

King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson dismissed arguments that Seattle's tax, adopted this summer, exceeded the city's authority under state law.

The measure — a rarity of its kind in the U.S. — adds $25 to the price of each firearm sold in the city, plus 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition, depending on the type. Officials expect it to raise up to $500,000 a year to help offset the costs of gun violence. The measure is set to take effect next month.

The NRA; the Second Amendment Foundation, based in Bellevue, Washington; the National Shooting Sports Foundation; two gun owners; and two gun shops sued Seattle in August, calling the ordinance "a piece of propaganda."

"The NRA and its allies always oppose these common-sense steps to shine light on the gun violence epidemic," said City Council President Tim Burgess, who sponsored the law. "Judge Robinson saw through the NRA's distorted efforts to put gun industry profits ahead of public safety."

The NRA vowed to appeal the ruling, reported The Seattle Times. "It’s unfortunate the court choose to ignore the law and embrace the Seattle City Council’s anti-gun agenda," the group's spokesman Lars Dalseide said in a statement. The Second Amendment Foundation also promised an immediate appeal.

The groups have argued state law puts responsibility for regulating firearms solely in the hands of the state legislature, not local governments. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

"It is unconscionable for Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council to codify what amounts to social bigotry against firearms retailers and their customers," Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb said in a written statement.

But the judge found the measure falls within the city's taxing authority and is not an impermissible regulation.

Recent mass shootings such have led to louder calls for stricter background checks of those purchasing firearms, limiting or taxing the sale of guns and, to a lesser extent, bullets. After nine people died in a shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in October, investigators found the gunman had an arsenal of 13 firearms, all purchased legally. After a San Bernardino, California, shooting that left 14 people dead and 21 injured, police said the attackers had two assault-style rifles, two semiautomatic handguns and more than 1,600 bullets with them at the scene of the attack and more than 3,000 rounds at their home.

The Seattle City Council modeled the tax on a similar one in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, and the NRA has said Chicago is the only other city with such a measure. The revenue would be used for gun safety research and gun violence prevention programs.

From 2006 to 2010, there were, on average, 131 firearm deaths a year in King County, according to Public Health–Seattle and King County. An additional 536 people required hospitalization for shooting injuries in that time.

Officials say 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.

City officials estimate the new tax would bring in $300,000 to $500,000 a year, but gun shop owners told council members those numbers were inflated. They said the law would cost them customers and sales and could force them to move out of the city.

"Guns now kill more people in the United States than automobiles," Murray said. "Our community will not stand by as so many in our city, particularly young people of color, continue to pay the highest price for inaction on gun violence at the national and state level."

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press

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