COLUMBIA, S.C. – TVs and laptops won't be the only hot items in South Carolina this Black Friday. The state is offering an unusual perk to shoppers: no sales tax on handguns, rifles and shotguns.
The so-called "Second Amendment Weekend" is thanks to a little-debated amendment legislators tacked on this summer to a tax break for energy-efficient appliances.
While the energy-efficiency measure doesn't go into effect until next year, on Friday and Saturday gun buyers won't have to pay state and local sales taxes that can total 8 percent. Taxes still apply to ammunition and accessories.
"We are a gun-owning-tradition state, a hunting-tradition state," said Republican state Rep. Mike Pitts, a retired police officer who introduced the proposal and has promoted other pro-gun legislation.
"Quite often people will buy their pop or grandpop a shotgun or rifle to hunt with for Christmas," he said in an interview by cell phone while out hunting.
While stores that sell guns are hoping for a boost in business, some opponents called it a gimmick that plays politics by tinkering with the state's tax code.
Legislators approved the holiday in June over the objection of Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, also an avid hunter and gun supporter. He called it a stunt that only affects the timing of a gun purchase, without effectively promoting gun ownership or demand.
"Regardless of what the sales tax holiday is for, we think it's gimmicky and a bad idea," spokesman Joel Sawyer said.
The cost impact is negligible; state economic officials estimate it will cost about $15,000 at a time that South Carolina had to cut annual spending by $488 million. More cuts could be on the way to address revenue shortfalls that are also affecting most other states.
South Carolina is the only state offering any kind of tax break to shoppers over Thanksgiving weekend, said Joe Henchman, counsel for the Washington-based Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group.
He opposes tax holidays — offered in 16 states this year, largely for back-to-school supplies — as complicating the tax code and confusing customers. The tax code should not be used to make political statements, he said.
Pitts said he wanted to do just that: make a political statement as the U.S. Supreme Court considered the right to have guns for self-defense in the home. The justices' decision to strike down the District of Columbia's 32-year ban on handguns came in late June, one day after the South Carolina legislators overrode Sanford's veto.
He picked Black Friday to start the tax holiday both because it's one of the year's busiest shopping weekends, and this week opens hunting season for several species, including ducks.
The National Rifle Association said no other states are considering a tax-free holiday on gun sales, though the group believes they should.
"Everyone is faced with tough times, and we believe, in addition to helping hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts, this will also help the local economy and merchants," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. "This shows South Carolina cares about America's hunting heritage, cares about law-abiding gun owners, and other states should follow suit."