After members of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s tax and revenue team answered a question he had about a proposed sales tax on gun range and club memberships, Republican House Minority Leader Blake Filippi thanked them for their honesty, and with good reason. For full video of the relevant House Finance Committee hearing, see here, but the following clip captures this particular exchange:
Perhaps the reason for the minority leader’s surprise at the bureaucrats’ honesty was that they seem to have presented the case that the new tax would (or at least should) simply be unconstitutional.
By way of a reminder, here is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
For those tempted to become bogged down in the significance of the Militia clause, it should suffice to note that Article I, Section 22, of Rhode Island’s Constitution does not contain that complication:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
According to Merriam-Webster, “infringe” means “to encroach upon in a way that violates law or the rights of another” or, in older times, “defeat, frustrate.” To go a step farther, “encroach” means “to enter by gradual steps or by stealth into the possessions or rights of another.”
Now return to the video. Asked about the motivation for the tax, the governor’s team said it was really more of a “policy” matter. The governor opposes guns, and the tax is intended to reduce their usage. As her chief of Revenue Analysis, Paul Dion, put it:
Dion: The governor’s position has been pretty clear on she would like to see less guns in the state and less use of the guns in the state, and by applying the sales tax, particularly on the shooting ranges piece of this would make it marginally more expensive to own a gun and use it at a shooting range, and she would like to discourage that type of consumer behavior in the state. I think she’s been very clear about that all five years, six years now, that she’s been in office.
Filippi: So, the belief is that by taxing hunting, fishing, and shooting ranges, people will participate in the sport less and purchase less firearms?
Dion: It’s not as linear as that, but yes. … To raise the cost of using a firearm, if you charge a sales tax, for example, at a shooting range, let’s just say for argument’s sake that you spend $1,000 a year at a shooting range. Now you’re going to have to pay $1,070. To the extent that discourages individuals from using the shooting range, that discourages them from using their firearms.
Defenders of the right to bear arms need perform no analysis or make any inferences, here. The governor wants fewer people to be able to own and bear arms, and so she’s implementing this tax to infringe on that right. Period.
How could a judge uphold such a direct assault on our civil rights? Perhaps the governor doesn’t expect the new tax to become law, but wanted to use the threat of violating civil rights as a way to score political points with progressives. I’m not sure that’s any better than proposing the tax and actually meaning it.