Tim Burgess won unanimous support from his council colleagues for a city gun and ammunition tax, but that will only address a small sliver of the costs of gun violence in Seattle.
Tim Burgess won unanimous support from his council colleagues for a city gun and ammunition tax, but that will only address a small sliver of the costs of gun violence in Seattle. City of Seattle

The city council today unanimously* approved two measures from Council President Tim Burgess to tax guns and ammo sold in the city of Seattle and to require that all stolen and lost guns be reported.

Burgess first introduced the legislation about a month ago.

The new rule will charge gun sellers $25 per firearm sold and $.05 per bullet on most ammunition. (In a change since the legislation was first introduced, .22 caliber rounds will only be taxed at $.02 each. Burgess's office says that move came after getting feedback that .22 rounds are cheaper and more often bought in bulk than other types of bullets.) Sales of antique guns and individual person-to-person sales will be exempted, as will gun and ammo dealers who don't sell more than four guns or 200 rounds of ammunition per year. Burgess's office says the taxes should raise about $300,000 to $500,000 a year.

That's a tiny sliver of the cost gun violence costs the city each year, and the funds will be targeted at one specific hospital intervention program for gunshot survivors.

As I wrote last month:

According to Burgess' office, 253 gunshot victims treated at Harborview last year cost taxpayers $12 million. A 2013 report from Seattle and King County Public Health says firearm deaths cost $177 million in medical expenses and lost productivity between 2007 and 2011, and the average charge for a gunshot hospitalization was $66,000.

The money raised from the new taxes wouldn't address much of those costs. Instead, it would be specifically funneled into an intervention program, in which people hospitalized because of gun violence would meet with doctors and social workers before being released.

A study commissioned by the city council and released last summer compared people hospitalized for gunshot wounds and those hospitalized for other reasons. Those in the hospital for gunshot wounds were 30 times more likely to be hospitalized again for another gun injury and 11 times more likely to die from gun violence in the next five years. Harborview's Injury Prevention and Research Center created the intervention program as a way to try to reduce that return rate, but has had trouble finding funding to start it, Burgess says, which is where the tax comes in.

When Burgess introduced the legislation, his primary election challenger John Roderick criticized it as "an example of the kind of press-conference policy that does nothing to address the root causes of the growing epidemic of gun violence on Seattle streets."

Roderick has since lost in the primary election. Instead of Roderick, tenant advocate Jon Grant will take on Burgess in the general election in November. Here's what Grant had to say about the legislation in an e-mail to The Stranger today:

"Council President Burgess is leaning left in the last year of his unprogressive eight years on council. This is not good enough, and voters said as much when almost 55% of his constituents voted against him in the primary. Let's not forget this is the politician who pushed anti-panhandling legislation that would have criminalized the poor, blocked campaign finance reform, and voted to give developers a sweetheart deal in South Lake Union. Seattleites want consistent progressive leadership."

While some gun store owners complained during public testimony that the tax will drive them out of the city and pro-gun advocates have threatened to sue, that camp found no traction among the council today.

Burgess said at the meeting the legislation was "not designed to attack business." In a statement immediately after the vote, he called gun violence "a public health crisis in our city and our nation."

"City government can and must pursue innovative gun safety measures that save lives and save money," Burgess said. "As it has in other areas of policy, Seattle can lead the way in local solutions."

“The fact is, in simple terms, access to guns is too high," Council Member Bruce Harrell, who chairs the council's public safety committee, said ahead of the vote. "Guns are getting in the wrong hands. It’s as simple as that.”

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Council Member Sally Bagshaw, who co-founded the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, said the bills are "common sense and small steps. We need to take them."

In a statement after the vote, Mayor Ed Murray praised Burgess. The vote, Murray said, "demonstrates the commitment of this city and this community to lead on the ongoing national epidemic of gun violence. While action at the federal level and in many other jurisdictions remains gridlocked, we are moving ahead to address an issue so damaging to the young people of Seattle, especially young people of color."

*Council Member Tom Rasmussen was absent.