A California Democrat isn’t giving up on a proposal to tax guns and ammunition that appeared to die in the Legislature last week.
Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said he’ll revive the effort on Thursday, a week after it failed to gain enough Democratic votes to clear the Assembly. He said he’s hoping a logistical change to Assembly Bill 1223 will buy him time to lobby for it.
The bill required a two-thirds majority vote in the 80-member Assembly because it would establish new excise taxes — 10% on handguns and 11% tax on long guns, rifles, precursor parts and ammunition. Money raised from the fines would help fund gun violence education and prevention programs.
AB 1223 failed in a final 46-20 floor vote before a June 4 deadline to send proposals to the Senate. A dozen Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both houses, effectively tanked the bill when they abstained from voting.
Levine said he met after the vote with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, to strategize another path for the legislation to pass in 2021.
Their solution now includes adding an urgency clause to the bill, a procedural move to force another floor vote. That means as soon as the bill is passed and signed into law, it goes into immediate effect.
Levine still needs a two-thirds majority with the urgency status, but said the change could give him a few weeks to meet with his colleagues to hash out remaining concerns.
“This is a very challenging bill. But there is a path to 54 (votes),” Levine said. “The point isn’t to raise taxes on guns and ammunition. That’s just a means to make our communities safer from gun violence.”
Levine also said he thinks a ruling in federal court that overturned California’s 30-year-old ban on assault weapons could inspire more support.
“When you have a federal judge making rulings that potentially make our communities less safe and more dangerous, that puts added responsibility on lawmakers to act,” he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has said he does not want to raise taxes this year, already proposed $200 million over the next three years in his budget for the existing California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program.
The program aims to reduce violence by working with at-risk community youth. Levine’s bill would create a new fund, which aims to accomplish much of the same goal.
During a lengthy floor debate, Republicans lambasted the levy proposal as aimless and unnecessary, especially during a year when California has an estimated $76 billion surplus.
“We can fund this program as much as we want. If this is that important, then let’s do it. But trying to tax at a 10% and 11% rate a certain group is going to...drive those people out,” said Kelly Seyarto, R-Murrieta . “They will buy their guns on the black market, or in Arizona or Nevada or wherever it is, and you will not see that revenue.”
Sam Paredes, executive director of the Gun Owners of California, also called AB 1223 an “unconstitutional” plan that places “blame and responsibility on law-abiding gun owners” for violence they don’t commit.
Paredes said buying a gun in California is already an expensive and logistically rigorous process, and that lawmakers should focus more on mental health programs to solve the gun violence epidemic.
“In California, we have every possible gun control law you can think of already on the books,” Paredes said. “We have everything. And still all of those laws have not been able to curb gun violence...We need to focus and look for a people solution because gun solutions just don’t work.”
But after a string of recent deadly shootings in California and throughout the United States, gun control activists argue AB 1223 is a much-needed funding stream for programs that wouldn’t exist without firearms.
“Violence intervention and prevention programs need the sustainable funding,” said Krystal LoPilato, an Alameda volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “And we’ll keep fighting for that.”