California Lawmakers Consider Bullet Tax

For lawmakers on the West Coast, the sound of gunfire may as well be money in the bank since a Democratic legislator has proposed a tax on bullet sales.

Emergency rooms and trauma centers across the country are facing budget crunches, and state Sen. Don Perata said the tax on bullets would make up for the cost of treating injuries from gunshot wounds.

In a six-shooter, that means another 30 cents per chamber.

"At five cents a bullet, times 100 rounds, you're looking at an extra 5 bucks," said Dan Kash of the Los Angeles gun range.

"We're going to have a big sign as you enter California: 'last stop for cheap ammo,'" said Chuck Michele of the California Pistol and Rifle Association.

According to a 1999 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, gunshot wounds nationwide in 1994 cost $2.3 billion in lifetime medical costs, of which $1.1 billion was charged to taxpayers.

Perata, who has his own concealed weapons permit, has waged a lifelong battle against guns in California, including a recent law that classified some Olympic target pistols as assault weapons.

With the bullet tax, Perata said the financial burden shifts from the state to gun users.

"Our trauma centers and emergency rooms are on fiscal life support right now and any help we can provide to defray that cost, I think, is in the public's best interest," Perata said. "I don't think there is any way to deny the logic. I know a lot of people who are gun owners who are not going to like this."

Opponents say the proposed tax is yet another attempt by anti-gun forces to make California a gun-free state while making it more expensive for the poor to defend themselves.

"Let's tax swimming pools because people drown in them. Let's tax matches because people use them to start fires," Michele said.

The bullet tax is just the latest in a slate of sin taxes being proposed in California to make up for budget shortfalls. A tobacco tax and a levy on soda pop are two of the latest revenue-generating proposals.

Democratic lawmakers may shoot down the bullet tax until after the November election, since it is possible it would create a backlash in the upcoming election. Otherwise, the proposal could come up as a November ballot issue for the voters to decide.