Washington state Supreme Court upholds Seattle's $25 gun tax

SEATTLE -- The Washington Supreme Court upheld Seattle's so-called gun violence tax against a challenge from gun-rights groups Thursday.

In an 8-1 decision , the justices affirmed a lower court ruling that the levy was valid because it fell within the city's taxing authority and because its primary purpose was to raise revenue for "the public benefit."

The tax, which took effect last year, adds $25 to the price of each firearm sold in the city plus 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition. It raised $200,000 in its first year, with the money earmarked for gun-violence research.

The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups sued, along with gun stores and customers. They argued that under state law, the power to regulate firearms is by and large reserved to the state. Seattle's measure was properly viewed as a regulation designed to hinder gun sales, not a tax, they argued.

In her opinion for the majority, Justice Debra Stephens disagreed.

State law "grants Seattle broad authority to tax retailers for the privilege of doing business within city limits," she wrote.

In 2014, Seattle became the first city in the country to directly fund gun violence research, City Councilman Tim Burgess said, and the results showed that gun violence costs Seattle and King County $180 million per year. That prompted the council to impose the tax to help defray those costs.

"It's truly disappointing that the NRA and its allies always oppose these common sense steps to shine light on the gun violence epidemic," Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess said in a written statement. "That makes today an especially huge win. I hope other cities in Washington now feel comfortable to follow suit."

Alan Gottlieb, founder of one of the groups that challenged the law, the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, said the decision shows that "gun owners must get more involved in Supreme Court races."

"The high court's decision to uphold what clearly appears to us as a violation of Washington's 34-year-old State Preemption Act is proof positive that the court places political correctness above the rule of law," he said.

In her dissent, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud said she believed state law forbids cities from imposing taxes on gun sales.