Democrats, wary of backlash, won’t impose $25 tax on gun purchases in California

Frank Cobet shows a customer an AR-15 rifle at the Get Loaded gun store in Grand Terrace in San Bernardino County in 2015.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

A proposal to tax guns and bullets in California has bogged down in the Legislature and is not expected to advance this year, its author said Friday, as lawmakers wrestle with how to respond to a string of fatal mass shootings in recent weeks.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D–San Rafael) said he would pursue his bill again next year.

Levine said he has been told by legislative leadership that there is no appetite for a bill raising taxes a year after Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) was recalled from office following his vote to increase the state’s gas tax.

“The story is a lack of political will for action on reducing gun violence in California,” Levine said. “The Senate had a learning moment with ... the recall of Josh Newman and they are reticent to engage in any tax increases, even if it is for a common-sense measure such as taxing guns and bullets.”


AB 18 would impose a statewide excise tax of $25 on the sale of handguns and semiautomatic rifles sold in California. It also would have set a tax on the sale of ammunition, but the amount had not yet been decided.

The bill was initially held by the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May, but Levine amended it this week to add the bullet tax and 11 co-authors in hopes of reviving it in the wake of fatal mass shootings in cities including Gilroy, Calif.; Dayton, Ohio; and El Paso.

He said Friday that efforts to get it reconsidered this year failed.

The proceeds from the two taxes would have gone to the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, which funds community efforts to reduce injuries and deaths from firearms.

The tax on guns alone would have raised about $13 million annually, state officials estimated.

The situation was complicated by the fact that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget included an extra $30 million for gun violence prevention programs this year. Another pending bill proposes to increase the fee gun owners already pay for the state Department of Justice programs tracking sales and enforcing gun laws.

The shelving of the Levine bill was welcomed Friday by David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which had opposed AB 18 as unfair and unnecessary.


Wolfe said violence prevention efforts appear justified in light of recent shootings, “but not with a tax on gun owners who use guns legitimately and responsibly.” He said funding for programs can be found elsewhere in a budget that this year projects a more than $20-billion surplus.

He was also pleased that backlash over the gas tax hike continues to be felt by the Legislature.

“We had a recall of a sitting state senator that wasn’t really close last year,” Wolfe said. “I think the fact that legislators on both sides of the aisle are paying attention to that is very important, and I think that speaks to the power of democracy and how it influences politics here in Sacramento.”

Gun Owners of California was another firearms group opposing the measure.

“The constitutionality of this bill is an obvious concern,” the owners group said in a statement, which noted that a lawsuit on a similar proposal is pending review for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A representative for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) declined to comment Friday on the delay of the bill.

Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), said, “We do not comment on bills that are not in the Senate.”


Levine noted that other gun safety measures are still alive, including a bill approved in committee Friday that would prohibit Californians from buying more than one gun a month.

The gun tax received backing this month from the mayors of Oakland, San Francisco, Alameda, Berkeley, Richmond and San Jose, adding to support previously provided by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign.

“The latest mass shootings across our country are only the most recent reminder of the failure of our elected officials to address the epidemic of gun violence in our country,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said earlier this month.

Levine said he would continue working to build legislative support for the measure.

“I have every intention to bring this bill to the floor of the Assembly in January when the second year of the session begins,” he said.