A group of Connecticut lawmakers is taking aim at gun violence by targeting ammunition sales with a 35% excise tax.
Backers of the bill expect the tax to generate $7 million annually for gun violence prevention in Connecticut’s four largest cities.
“Gun violence is costing us $1.2 billion annually. That comes out to $333 for every Connecticut resident,” said the bill’s sponsor, West Hartford Democrat Rep. Jillian Gilchrest.
On Thursday, Gilchrest said it’s time to start paying for prevention on the front end rather than the cost of gun violence on the back end. She said her bill would add a 35% excise tax to ammunition sales both in stores and online. She wants to put the money towards evidence-based gun violence prevent programs in Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury, and New Haven.
She said the tax will amount to $3.50 to $5 for a box of 50 bullets.
“For those who use it as a sport or who own a handgun this isn’t too much more to ask and the impact can be tremendous on preventing violence in our communities,” said Gilchrest.
“It can add up quickly. So, you’re looking at an extra $100 on a case of ammunition,” said Douglas Odishoo, owner of Delta Arsenal which sells guns and ammunition and also operates a gun range at its shop in Wallingford.
He pointed out that it only takes 5 to 10 minutes for people at their range to go through a box of bullets.
“If we’re doing a training course we’re looking at a 10 person class, about 1,000 to 1,500 rounds for that day,” he explained. “I understand the cause of why they’re trying to do it to raise more money to prevent violence. We think putting this tax on ammunition would actually hurt people training.”
“They don’t want to pay more for their ammunition and I don’t to either,” said Sen. Doug McCrory, a Hartford Democrat.
However, McCrory, a gun owner himself, said he supports the bill.
“I believe the idea behind this at the end of the day is to find funding for programs that prevent gun violence,” he said.
He admitted that fellow gun owners might see this legislation as punishment.
“I don’t want to punish them, but I want them to understand the concerns I’m having. You might not be having these concerns in your small town because the ammunition is being used in a quote, unquote right way, but where in this both together, we’re either sink together or we’re going to sink together," said McCrory.
“Governments levy excise taxes for things that we sell legally but could have a detrimental impact on society,” added House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, a Democrat.
Ray Bevis, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Citizens Defense League called the bill another attack on legal gun owners.
"Gun owners are the most law-abiding citizens in this state. They're not the ones committing the crime,” said Bevis.
In Connecticut, ammunition can't be purchased without a permit.
Odishoo said if the bill is designed to target those committing crimes, this one misses the mark.
“A criminal can't walk in to purchase ammunition. They just can't,” he pointed out.
One Republican lawmaker called the bill another revenue grab.
“I know most of my constituents are opposed to it and the only winner in that is going to be the government because they’re just looking for millions and millions of dollars. Once they put that on they’ll just raise it in the future,” said Rep. Whit Betts of Bristol. “They’re picking on ammunition under the guise it’s going to make it safer for people and I don’t follow that logic nor do I agree with it.”
But, supporters said the programs this revenue will pay for could be life-saving.
"Every time you purchase ammo you know that you are doing something that's responsible and making an impact on a lot of these communities," said Brent Peterkin of Project Longevity which works to end street gang violence in Connecticut’s urban areas.
Gilchrest said the military and municipalities would be exempt from paying the excise tax.