In a significant move towards curbing gun violence, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law on Tuesday, doubling taxes on firearms and ammunition. The additional revenue generated will be directed towards bolstering security measures in public schools and funding various violence prevention programs.
The federal government already imposes taxes on gun and ammunition sales, ranging from 10% to 11%, depending on the type of firearm. California’s new law adds an extra 11% tax, making it the only state in the nation with its specific tax on guns and ammunition.
Governor Newsom, known for his progressive stances, has historically been cautious about raising taxes, even for causes he supports, like combatting climate change. However, his strong advocacy for gun control made it challenging to veto this tax increase. Newsom is actively campaigning for a constitutional amendment to restrict gun sales, impose extensive background checks, enforce waiting periods, and ban assault-style weapons.
While success in this campaign is uncertain due to the political landscape, it has propelled Newsom to the forefront of the gun control debate among Democratic voters.
Newsom justified the tax as a necessary step, given the financial toll gun violence takes on healthcare and the criminal justice system. He stated, “I think this is a pretty modest investment in prevention and reducing those costs ultimately… The carnage, it’s too much. We can’t normalize it; we can’t accept it. This is a small price to pay.”
In addition to the tax increase, Governor Newsom also signed a law overhauling the state’s rules for carrying concealed weapons. California’s new law restricts the carrying of guns in nearly all public places, including parks, public demonstrations, amusement parks, churches, banks, and places where alcohol is sold.
Furthermore, starting July 1, 2028, all semiautomatic pistols sold in California will be required to have microstamping technology, allowing law enforcement to trace bullets back to their source more easily.
Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, criticized these new laws, calling them unconstitutional. He anticipates legal challenges and potential judgments against them.
Notably, California’s new tax on guns and ammunition is unique in the nation. While some local governments have imposed similar taxes, no other state has such a specific tax. Tennessee had a 10-cent tax on shotgun shells, which was repealed in 2019, and Pennsylvania collects a $3 surcharge on gun sales for background checks.
Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun control advocacy group, praised the move, saying, “Taxing firearm sales to fund violence intervention programs is essential to interrupting the cycle of violence and stopping gun violence before it begins, and we encourage other states to follow suit.”
The tax, with exceptions for police officers and small businesses, is estimated to generate around $159 million annually. The law mandates that the first $75 million of this revenue go to the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, funding projects aimed at reducing youth involvement in gangs. The remaining $50 million will be allocated to enhancing security in public schools, including physical improvements, safety assessments, after-school programs, and mental health services.
Despite these initiatives, California currently has some of the lowest gun death rates in the country, ranking 43rd out of 50 states with nine deaths for every 100,000 people, according to 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.