A bill that would have significantly raised taxes on firearms and ammunition in California failed in the Assembly on Thursday, coming five votes short of passage.
Assembly Bill 1223, authored by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), would have added a 10% tax on sales prices of handguns and 11% to the sales prices on long guns, rifles, firearm precursor parts, and ammunition. The bill, also known as the Gun Violence Prevention, Healing, and Recovery Act, would have only applied the tax to retailers and not gun buyers themselves. All added tax revenue from AB 1223 would have been deposited to a special fund, the Gun Violence Prevention, Healing, and Recovery Fund, which would have divested money into gun violence prevention programs and research. Assemblyman Levine specifically noted that some of the annual estimated $118 million in additional taxes going towards the California Violence Intervention Program (CalVIP).
As it would have affected taxpayers with a higher tax, the bill needed 2/3rds approval from both houses of the California legislature.
Assemblyman Levine wrote the bill to combat the growing number of gun sales during the pandemic, as well as a way to increase funding to combat gun violence.
“Gun violence will not end on its own,” said Assemblyman Levine in April. “We must take responsible action to end the public health crisis that is gun violence in California and in our country. As we see tragedy after tragedy, let’s remind ourselves that we are neither helpless nor hopeless to end this bloodshed and death in our communities. AB 1223 will provide a reliable funding source for CalVIP needed to make critical investments that will reduce gun-related violence in our communities.”
“California is in the midst of a gun violence epidemic that will only end when our leaders have the courage to do what is right and necessary to end it,” added Levin earlier this month.
GOP, Some Dems Assembly members vote down AB 1223
However, opponents against AB 1223 quickly pointed out a legislative analysis of the bill that found that retailers would have likely added the extra tax cost to consumers, and that it would have punished lawful firearm and ammunition buyers solely due to the actions of a few unlawful users.
“The reason why so many were against this bill is because it would hurt legitimate weapons buyers, especially first-time users simply looking for protective and sport uses,” explained lawyer and firearms law analyst Rich Byers to the Globe on Friday.
Some Assembly Democrats gave a last ditch effort to convince Republicans and fellow Democrats against the bill by pointing out recent mass deaths in California, such as the May 26th San Jose railyard shooting.
Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose) read the names of each victim before the vote on Thursday, noting that “We continue to see the breaking news headlines of yet another mass shooting in our nation on a nearly weekly basis. And frankly, I’m sick of it.”
However, Republicans, as well as many Democrats from more moderate districts, rural districts, and districts with high gun ownership either voted against AB 1223 or abstained from voting, resulting in a final vote of 46-20, with 13 abstaining, falling short by five votes.
“Gun laws are often the deciding factor in voting for someone in close districts,” added Byers. “A lot of Democrats simply played both sides of the coin by neither voting for or against the AB 1223 yesterday, meaning future opponents from either party could not use this against them in the elections next year, not to mention being a tax raise. It was a pragmatic decision if nothing else.”