HARTFORD, CT — A new 35% excise tax on ammunition sold in the state would bring in about $7 million annually to help pay the more than $1 billion cost of bills that gun violence brings each year, according to the bill’s sponsor.
Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford and other proponents of the bill held a press conference at the Legislative Office Building Thursday to put a renewed push on for the bill.
She tried the same thing last year – asking for a 50 percent tax – but the Finance Committee never took it up for a vote.
Gilchrest said a recent congressional report showed that gun violence costs the state $1.2 billion annually – or $333 per resident.
She said the overwhelming majority of that gun violence takes place in the state’s four largest cities of Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury.
Gilchrest said her bill would mandate that the funds raised from the tax be placed in a non-lapsing account to be drawn from by programs and agencies who work on gun violence issues.
The bill, as written, Gilchrest said, would tax ammunition purchased both in stores and on the internet.
She said a box of bullets would cost those purchasing it an extra $3.50 to $5 per box.
“We could be asking for a lot more,” Gilchrest said, adding that those who work in law enforcement and military personnel would be exempt from paying the tax.
Gilchrest said the reality is the vast majority of people in the state are not gun owners but without taxing those who buy the ammunition everyone is paying for the costs that gun violence brings.
Those advocating for the law said they know the bill will be controversial.
“This will get a lot of attention from folks, probably some negative,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford. But he quickly added that the state has “been a leader on some of these gun issues for a decade.”
Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, said even though he’s a gun owner he is a strong supporter of the bill, specifically for the reason that its intent is to funnel back money into the cities that have the highest rate of gun violence.
“We have to get ahead of this early to provide programs,” McCrory said. “We are not trying to take guns out of anybody’s hands but I think it is extremely important,” to have strong gun laws.
Currently, “it’s easier to get a handgun than a loaf of bread or lettuce” in Hartford, McCrory said.
Passing the bill won’t be an easy sell for Gilchrest and other advocates.
Holly Sullivan, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), said the “35% tax on ammunition would put more people at risk. Lower income individuals who typically live in more dangerous neighborhoods will likely be priced out of the most effective means of gun safety which is target practice and developing safe handling skills.”
Sullivan added: “these residents will be disproportionately impacted by this.”
Sullivan said that those who currently legally purchase ammunition in the state have to go through a rigorous fingerprinting and background check process. “The proposed legislation will not prevent any criminal from illegally obtaining guns or ammunition that has intent to commit violent crimes,” Sullivan said.
CCDL, Sullivan added is “calling into question whether or not the real reason for this bill is based on contempt for the 2nd Amendment.”
But those advocating for the bill said what they most like about it is that it directly asks that money raised from the tax go directly to gun violence programs.
Chelsea Parsons, vice president of Gun Violence Prevention at American Progress, said at the press conference that “taxing ammunition is not a new idea. The federal government has had a tax since 1941.” However, that federal law does not mandate that any taxes be spent on gun violence initiatives.
And Brent Peterkin, statewide director for Project Longevity, rejected the argument that the bill had to be a divisive issue between gun owners and those who work against gun violence.
“I don’t believe most gun owners are not law abiding people,” said Peterkin, whose Connecticut group works with marshals law enforcement agencies and communities to focus on serious violence, reducing arrests, direct support and social service coordination.
“This is their opportunity to help with the effort, support this effort,” Peterkin said. “It’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, it’s the courageous thing to do.”