Bonta bullet tax advances in Assembly

Bonta bullet tax advances in Assembly

Michele Ellson

Contributed photo.

A bill co-authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta that would levy taxes on ammunition to help fund public safety services in violence-plagued communities and also, children’s mental health services, has cleared one Assembly committee and is headed to another.

The Alameda Democrat’s bill would levy a 10 percent tax on bullets starting in July 2014, raising an estimated $92.4 million a year for public safety and mental health programs. Public safety would be exempted from the tax, which is also expected to raise $7.7 million a year in local sales taxes.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has joined the bill as a co-author, folding elements of a second bill he authored seeking to tax ammunition to fund mental health services for young children. In addition to public safety, proceeds from the tax would pay for existing school-based mental health services for young children that were defunded this year.

A third of the proceeds from the tax would support the School-Based Early Mental Health Intervention and Prevention Services Matching Grant Program, with the rest earmarked for public safety.

“Not too long ago, a kindergarten student attending my daughters’ elementary school in Alameda was shot and killed in front of his parents' food truck in Oakland,” Bonta said. “By addressing the gun violence in Oakland we are addressing the problem in every region of the state.”

Five-year-old Gabriel Martinez Jr. was shot and killed outside his family’s taco truck on December 30, 2011, reportedly making him the third child victim of gun violence in Oakland that year. Bonta has used Oakland as an example of a city whose public safety programs could receive the funds.

A Field Poll showed that Californians support taxing bullets for public safety services, Bonta has said, and he said the practice of taxing firearms and bullets dates back a century. And proponents have argued that the bill, which is backed by the City of Oakland, would tighten ammunition sales and provide a much-needed revenue stream for public safety services in high-crime cities.

But opponents – which include a number of gun and sportsmen’s groups – have said the bill unfairly burdens hunters whose ammunition is rarely used in crimes. And staffers with the state Board of Equalization, which would administer the tax, have said smaller retailers may find managing the new tax burdensome.

Former State Senator Don Perata proposed a similar tax in 2001 that would have been directed into a new trauma fund, but it died in committee. Another bullet tax proposed two years later that would have provided money to victims of gun violence suffered a similar fate.

The bill is one of several Bonta co-sponsored in the wake of a pair of mass murders at a Colorado movie theater and Connecticut elementary school that left scores dead, and one of dozens of bills that have been proposed by lawmakers in both legislative houses.

In addition to the bullet tax, Bonta has sponsored a bill to allow Oakland to impose tighter gun registration restrictions than the rest of the state that is headed to the Assembly floor and another that would have ended the practice of grandfathering weapons that are subsequently declared illegal, which has been withdrawn. Bonta is also listed as a co-authored on a bill from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, that requires ammunition dealers to be licensed and to report sales; that bill was slated to be heard by the Assembly’s appropriations committee on Wednesday.

In addition to the bills, the Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay, which Bonta chairs, will be holding a hearing on causes of and solutions to gun violence from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, May 17 in the Elihu M. Harris State Building, 1515 Clay Street in Oakland. Additional information on the hearing, which is open to the public, is available here.