Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, speaks during a press conference on reproductive rights Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut gun owners filed hundreds of objections Wednesday to a legislative proposal for an ammunition tax – specifically, a nickel-per-round excise tax on most forms of ammunition. The revenue from the tax would be used to fund gun violence prevention programs.

The bill was raised as part of a lengthy public hearing in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. The legislation would apply a 3-cent-per-round tax on ammunition .22 caliber or smaller as well as a 5-cent-per-round tax on other types of bullets. 

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

The state would use the funds to supply grants to support community gun violence intervention and prevention programs. Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, told the committee that the proposal was designed to provide sustainable support for those underfunded programs in hopes of curbing violence in Connecticut.    

“You’re hearing a lot about the potential impact that this tax will have on gun owners. Well, currently in the state of Connecticut, we’re all paying the price of gun violence,” Gilchrest said. “Aside from its incalculable emotional toll, gun violence carries a substantial financial cost.” 

Connecticut lawmakers have considered similar bills in prior legislative sessions but have yet to push any of the proposals to final passage. This year’s bill received supportive testimony from nonprofit groups like Hartford Communities that Care and Connecticut Against Gun Violence.

However, the residents who offered testimony on the bill during Wednesday’s hearing spoke and wrote overwhelmingly in opposition to the idea. Nearly 900 submitted written objections to the bill to the committee’s website. Others addressed the committee in person or remotely.

Some gun owners told the panel that it had already grown too expensive to own guns in Connecticut.

“I shoot competitive and I can tell you, since 2019 the price of ammo, just in general, has skyrocketed,” Hyde Harman of Voluntown said. “It’s not a small thing already.” 

Another gun owner prompted an objection from a state legislator when he compared the proposed ammunition tax to poll taxes, a form of voter suppression used to prevent Black voters from casting ballots after the 15th Amendment prohibited states from denying residents voting rights based on their race. 

“This ammunition tax is equivalent to the poll taxes of the Jim Crow-era South,” Alon Cohen of Portland said. “Rights under the constitution should not ever be taxed to disenfranchise the citizens of their constitutional rights.”

Cohen argued the bill would make residents sacrifice their own security to support programs that have not worked. When he had finished his remarks, Rep. Fred Gee, Jr., D-Bridgeport, disputed Cohen’s comparison of the bill to poll taxes.

“The Jim Crow-era poll tax on the sons and daughters of slaves is not equivalent to a tax on ammunition,” Gee said. “The two are not one in the same and it does not have the same effect in disenfranchisement of a demographic of people. There are Black and white and Jew and Christian and Muslim that lost their life to eliminate the poll tax.”

Cohen asked for the opportunity to respond.

“Is the goal not the same in terms of disenfranchisement of a civil liberty?” he said. “Certainly I do agree that voting is at least on par if not more important, but it’s the same type of civil liberty … Ultimately, the point I’m making is there shouldn’t be a tax on any civil liberty.” 

Gee wasn’t convinced.

“I understand your point. My only objection to what you’re saying is that the two are not synonymous,” Gee said. “The Jim Crow poll tax was an egregious moment in American history. A tax on ammunition is not egregious on American history.”