OPINION: Tax cuts for guns & ammo? Oh deer, it’s true.

It's breeding time!

Credit: Larry Smith / CC BY 2.0

Credit: Larry Smith / CC BY 2.0

It's breeding time!

At a recent hearing of the state Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, had a prediction to her Republican colleague, state Sen. Jason Anavitarte: “My read of the tea leaves is that this is going to get some bad press,” she said.

Orrock was talking about the bill that Anavitarte had just introduced, Senate Bill 344, which would create a sales tax holiday for guns and ammunition in Georgia. Orrock wasn’t wrong about the bad press.

Anavitarte’s bill would give a tax break, or “sales tax holiday,” to anyone purchasing guns, ammunition, or firearms accessories in Georgia for five days every year. It would include any gun and gun accessory, from sights and silencers to lasers, high-capacity magazines, gun boxes…you name it.

The reason for the legislation, Anavitarte explained during the hearing, was clear— deer. “With no natural predators, hunting is the primary means of keeping Georgia’s deer population at a healthy level,” he said. Foregoing sales taxes the week before white-tailed deer season every year would help cull the herds, he explained.

Is the white-tailed deer population exploding in Georgia? Actually, no. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources estimates that deer populations in North Georgia are dropping by about 4% per year.

Are gun sales suffering? Also no. Anavitarte said skipping taxes on hunting rifles and gear could help increase sales heading into the October hunting season, which is a big draw for tourism.

But the industry itself is flush with cash. As a part of the fiscal note for the bill, the Georgia State Auditor estimated that retail sales of firearms and accessories already amount to $1.06 billion annually in Georgia and will increase steadily through the end of the decade. It’s hard to see why Georgia towns should support the firearm industry with favorable tax treatment that other industries aren’t getting when sales are brisk and getting brisker.

And although the measure is pitched as a conservation measure to support outdoorsmen and hunters, the bill does not mention hunting at all. It would apply to any firearm used for any reason, from handguns to hunting rifles to AR-15s.

State Sen. Doc Rhett, a Marietta Democrat, was confused. “Does this pertain to just hunting firearms, or would it also pertain to Pookie and Gogo buying a weapon on Bankhead Highway?” Pookie and Gogo qualify, too, he was told.

The biggest complaint from Democrats during the Senate floor debate on the bill was the fact that the measure would create a sales tax holiday for guns and ammo when necessities like diapers don’t get similar holidays.

In fact, according to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, there are no sales tax holidays in effect for any retail sales right now, meaning guns would be the only consumer products in the state to get the temporary tax cut.

Many may remember that Georgia once had a generous and popular back-to-school sales tax holiday for school supplies. Every August, local news crews followed families walking into Walmarts and Targets across Georgia to load up on everything from crayons to backpacks and computers to take advantage of the tax break.

But lawmakers let the sale tax holiday lapse in 2017, along with a similar energy-efficiency tax holiday, after research showed the holidays mostly only changed the days consumers planned to purchase items, and stores often raised their prices to take advantage of the difference. And it all came at a cost to state and local coffers of about $70 million per year.

When the back-to-school tradition in Georgia lapsed in 2018, James Salzer quoted the Tax Foundation’s report that concluded most sales tax holidays around the country “involve politicians picking products and industries to favor with exemptions, arbitrarily discriminating among products and across time, and distorting consumer decisions.”

Which brings us back to 2024 and the real problem with the gun sales tax holiday bill — namely that there is no standard, no budgeting requirement, and no revenue impact that a new tax holiday has to meet to win approval. A Georgia lawmaker can propose a holiday and pass it, as long as enough fellow members approve it. The state Senate passed the guns & ammo holiday this week by a vote of 30-22.

SB 344 will benefit a single industry, which Anavitarte has long championed. He won the NRA’s Defender of Freedom award in 2022 when the group credited him for eliminating Georgia’s gun license requirement that year. He had gone “above and beyond” for gun owners, the NRA said.

Same old story, some Democrats might say. But here’s the twist — the sales tax holiday in SB 344 would also apply to safety gear —gun safes, trigger locks, and other products designed to make accidental discharge and easy access to guns harder, especially for children. The Finance committee debate included members of both parties agreeing that adding safety mechanisms to the bill made it better public policy.

So a House bill from state Rep. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, and a Senate bill from state Sen Kay Kilpatrick, R-Marietta, which would create year-round tax credits for safe gun storage could conceivably win favor with this crowd, too. Another House bill from GOP state Rep. Mark Newton goes further by adding training to safe storage tax credits.

Although the white-tailed deer population isn’t spiraling out of control, accidental gunshots and gun-related suicides are leading killers of children in Georgia.

Instead of a solution in search of a problem, like the guns & ammo tax holiday bill, members could agree on a problem with a ready, if partial, solution.

A broad swath of Georgia parents would thank lawmakers for using tax policy and their tax dollars to save children’s lives, not endear themselves to a gun industry that’s doing just fine on its own.

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