AP Photo/Alan Diaz

The Tacoma City Council moved one step closer towards imposing a tax on firearm and ammunition sales in the city this week when council members heard public comment in advance of a vote on the measure. While the chief backer of the proposal is billing it as a public safety measure and swears it’s not about hurting legal gun owners or sellers, gun store owners say it’s more likely to drive them out of business than it is to lower violent crime.

“They’re throwing me away,” said Dan Davies.

Davies and his wife have owned Mary’s Pistols for about 15 years. He says when they opened their shop, Tacoma was in need of a family owned gun store.

“People like the idea of me and my wife taking care of their firearms needs and treating them like people,” said Davies.

Davies says if the gun tax passes, it will put him out of business.

“They’re hurting my family; they’re hurting my friends. This store is a lot of glue that holds a lot of people together and throwing it away, no matter what you’re view on firearms, is a really bad move,” he said.

Council member Ryan Mello, meanwhile, says he knows most gun owners aren’t bad people, and swears this is about public safety, not punishing people financially for exercising a constitutional right.

I have full appreciation that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible. This is not meant to be punitive to responsible gun owners. This is a way that is legal, deemed by the state supreme court, for cities to generate revenue for a super serious and clear problem. And there’s a direct nexus to it. For example, we tax and add fees to hunters and fishermen so that we can create more boating access land and conserve ground for hunters. Americans tend to like direct nexus of taxation, it seems to me. Car tabs for street repairs, so on and so forth. To me, this is a direct nexus of a product that very demonstrably has negative economic and social consequences for our community, and the consequences need to be mitigated with public resources.

I don’t believe Councilman Mello when he says this isn’t meant to be punitive to responsible gun owners, and I’ll tell you why. This program, according to Mello, is expected to generate $40,000 a year to “combat gun violence.” That is a pittance, and even Mello is forced to claim that, well, every little bit helps.

yeah, it’s not that much revenue, but the federal government and the state government have really tied our hands on this issue and taken away so many of the right policy levers for us with preemption.

So, there’s not much we can do but to tax gun owners because we can’t attack their Second Amendment rights directly. I dunno, sounds kind of punitive to me. He doesn’t stop there, however.

 I think we must do something, anything, to prevent gun violence and if this funds one program, one outreach worker, if it saves one life, it’s worth it. All the political pain is worth it. This is not a politically popular thing to take on. But i think it’s serious and important, and I don’t think we’ll be able to live with ourselves if we can’t say that we have done absolutely everything we can in local government.

Now I know that this is not only punitive, but it’s also a political stunt on Mello’s part. The councilman says that we need to do absolutely everything we can in local government to stop gun violence. Okay, if that’s the case, then why not tax something that will generate more than $40,000 in revenue each year? Public safety is a matter for all, not just gun owners. How about a penny sales tax to fund these anti-violence programs? Now that would be politically unpopular for Ryan Mello, but if the goal is to raise money for these programs and not just punish legal gun owners and gun stores, it’s going to be much more effective. Do you think he has the political courage to do it?

I don’t. I think this is a political stunt that will raise little money for Tacoma but will force gun stores to move outside of the city limits in order to compete with nearby stores that don’t have to impose the additional sin tax on the purchase of a box of 9mm or a new rifle. That’s exactly what’s happened in Seattle, and meanwhile violent crime has increased. Ryan Mello should be embarrassed to try to treat the serious issue of violent crime in such an unserious way, and his proposed guns and ammo tax should be thrown into the circular file at City Hall. If he’s really politically brave, let him call for that penny sales tax. Until then, I just see him as another craven politician.