Gun rights groups sue to block California’s new tax on firearms

Gun Rights

Gun rights groups filed a 2nd Amendment challenge Tuesday to a new California law that slapped an extra tax on firearm and ammunition sales in an attempt to reduce gun violence.

The Firearms Policy Coalition said it filed the complaint on its members’ behalf in San Diego County Superior Court. Other plaintiffs included the National Rifle Assn., the California Rifle & Pistol Assn. and the Second Amendment Foundation.

The new tax law (Assembly Bill 28), which went into effect Monday, imposes an 11% excise tax on the sale of firearms, firearm parts and ammunition. It’s expected to generate $159 million in its first year to help fund state programs for gun violence prevention and gang intervention.

The complaint, which seeks to block the new law, said the excise tax is a violation of the 2nd Amendment because it’s a special tax on gun owners. It states that the U.S. Supreme Court “has repeatedly held that constitutional rights cannot be singled out for special taxation.”

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“Here, California effectively seeks the power to destroy the exercise of a constitutional right by singling it out for special taxation,” the complaint reads. “If this tax is permitted, there is nothing stopping California from imposing a 50% or even 100% tax on a constitutional right it disfavors — whether it be the right to keep and bear arms, the right to free exercise of religion, or any other right.”

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, the defendant in the case, said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Firearms Policy Coalition President Brandon Combs said the “gun tax is a modern Jim Crow law that targets people and rights hated by tyrants like Gov. Gavin Newsom.”

“California’s firearms excise tax is a blatant and egregious attack on the rights of Californians and a calculated maneuver to dismantle the Second Amendment,” said Randy Kozuch, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

Daniel Villaseñor, spokesman for the governor’s office, said the cost of gun violence far outweighs the cost of the tax.

“This is a modest investment in gun violence prevention programs that are proven to work,” he said. “There’s a reason California is ranked the No. 1 state for gun safety — and we won’t back down from defending common sense policies like this that help save lives.”

The lawsuit was also brought on behalf of two licensed gun owners: Danielle Jaymes, a resident of San Diego County, and Joshua Gerken, a resident of Orange County.

“The individuals are probably members of all the associations that are also plaintiffs,” said C.D. Michel, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The pair purchased mostly ammunition for training and self-defense purposes hours after the law went into effect on July 1, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit states that Jaymes also planned to purchase a handgun — a Sig Sauer P365 XMacro, a subcompact semiautomatic pistol — but put it off due to the increased cost from the tax. She is now saving money to purchase it.

“Ms. Jaymes would purchase this handgun within the coming weeks if it did not cost 11% more,” the complaint reads.

Gerken, a member of the NRA and an occasional firearms instructor at local gun ranges, said he purchases ammunition once a month but may have to cut back due to the new tax, according to the complaint.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a group of 2nd Amendment challenges to a state law in Illinois that prohibited the sale of rapid-fire assault weapons. Had the court granted the appeals, it would have threatened California’s long-standing ban of most rapid-fire assault rifles as well.

The justices’ decision means the lawsuits against Illinois’ ban will continue to be heard in the lower courts.

Separately, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is weighing a 2nd Amendment challenge to California’s ban on assault weapons. A federal judge in San Diego declared the ban unconstitutional last year, calling assault rifles “commonly owned and kept for lawful purposes,” and the 9th Circuit agreed to hear the state’s appeal.

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