Ohio House bills propose dropping taxes on guns and safety devices
Photo by Aristide Economopoulos for New Jersey Monitor/States Newsroom.
Ohio lawmakers are considering two tax cuts related to firearms — one exempts safety devices like locks and safes, the other eliminates taxes on the weapons themselves. The former has the support of organizations on both sides of the gun policy debate. The latter faces stiff opposition from gun control groups.
The proposal cutting taxes for gun safety devices got its fourth committee hearing and an amendment on Tuesday. The changes remove a provision requiring retailers to post signage notifying customers about the exemption and to provide written notice of it when a customer gets a gun.
State Rep. Sean Brennan, D-Parma, explained he agreed to the amendment after a suggestion from Rep. Angie King, R-Celina.
“I wanted to be the one that presented the amendment to show in good faith that I’m willing to work with all of my colleagues,” he explained.
Brennan added that he’d recently gotten assurances from Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and Ohio Police Benevolent association that they would support the bill.
The core of the proposal, however, remains unchanged. Ohioans would be able purchase trigger locks, safes, or cases tax free.
Sandy Hook Promise, emphasized how safe storage could prevent accidental shootings and suicide. The Buckeye Firearms Association quibbled with the bills notice requirements, but joined a firearm industry trade group and the NRA in praising the decision to encourage rather than require safe storage.
“Over the last thirty years there have been countless attempts to mandate the methods by which gun owners store their firearms,” Rob Sexton from the Buckeye Firearms Association wrote. He applauded the “different approach” of using a tax break to make devices more affordable.
“We think this is a great idea,” he added, “especially in today’s environment of hyper-inflation.”
What opposition there is comes from local governments, concerned about the hit to their bottom line.
“This legislation will remove funds that are needed to support the criminal justice system and other critical functions of county government,” Jon Honeck wrote on behalf of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
Despite those concerns, legislative researchers estimate the financial impact would be relatively small. The total reduction in revenue would clock in at about $2.7 million — nearly all of that borne by the state’s general revenue fund. Every county levies a “permissive” tax on top of the state sales tax rate that helps fund local services. Estimates put the reduction in permissive tax revenue at up to $700,000.
Aside from Tuesday’s hearing, the tax exemption for safety devices has moved in lockstep with a far broader tax exemption for guns and ammunition. That measure also creates a tax credit for firearm manufacturers who build new facilities in the state. Originally that provision had no upper limit, but a substitute version of the bill caps the credit program at $10 million a year.
Estimates of the tax revenue lost from gun sales is greater by an order of magnitude than the losses from safety device sales. Legislative researchers put the total at $23.5 to $39.2 million.
In his sponsor testimony, Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, argued that’s a drop in the bucket compared to Ohio’s $12.2 billion in overall sales tax revenue. He added that math “does not account for the likely growth of business as a result of this tax exemption.”
Cutrona argued the change would give Ohio gun sellers a competitive edge over neighboring states.
“This is an opportunity to promote our rights while also helping Ohio’s businesses and consumers,” he wrote.
Gun rights organizations voiced approval for the idea. The industry trade group, National Shooting Sports Foundation, compared the exemption to the sales tax exemption for newspapers.
“Law-abiding Americans should never have to pay a tax to exercise a fundamental Constitutional right,” the organization argued.
County commissioners raised the same objections they did to the safety devices exemption, and the Children’s Defense Fund pushed back on safety grounds. Writing on behalf of the organization, Matthew Tippit noted 115 children have died this year from “preventable gun violence.”
“In a state with 115 children lost far too soon to guns, why would we make it cheaper and, therefore, easier to obtain a gun?” Tippit argued.
At this point, both measures have held hearings with opponents and proponents. But the chairman, state Rep. Bill Roemer, R-Richfield, didn’t tip his hand about when he’d bring either proposal up for a final vote. He said he expected to bring up both again, but wasn’t sure it would happen in time for the next House session in mid-November.
“We’re now also ramping up the property tax study commissioned where I’m the co-chair,” he explained, “So we’re gonna spend a lot of time on property taxes here over the next couple months.”
Roemer added that while he hasn’t whipped either bill, he’s hearing concerns from committee members about the proposals as they’re currently written.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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