A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

500 Percent Ammo Tax?


Q: Is Obama planning to increase the federal tax on gun ammunition by 500 percent?

A: No such proposal has been made by the Obama administration. And nobody in Congress has introduced any bill to increase the 11 percent federal excise tax on ammo. FULL QUESTION

Is President Obama and/or Congress, really hiking up the prices on ammunition for guns up to nearly 500%?

FULL ANSWER

We’ve received a number of queries since the beginning of the year from readers wanting to know if President Obama is planning to raise the federal tax on firearms ammunition by 500 percent. Since it is now 11 percent of the sales price, such an increase would amount to adding 55 percent to that rate, putting it at 66 percent of the sales price. Claims of such tax increases have been repeated frequently on Web sites promoting gun rights and circulated by numerous chain e-mails. But there is no indication that the president is pursuing this.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the National Rifle Association claimed that Obama would "increase federal taxes on guns and ammunition by 500 percent" as a part of what it called "Obama’s 10-Point Plan to ‘Change’ the Second Amendment." That was a mailer distributed to the organization’s members as part of an advertising campaign, which we said at the time "distorts Obama’s position on gun control beyond recognition." Regarding the ammo tax claim, we said then that Obama hadn’t pressed for any such tax as a U.S. senator and was not proposing one as a presidential candidate.

Now we can report that Obama has proposed no such tax since becoming president. And we find no evidence that he or his administration has any plans to do so. Though it is often repeated and widely believed by gun owners, this tax claim is a myth.

Blast From the Past

As we noted in our article "NRA Targets Obama," the NRA’s claim that Obama plans a 500 percent tax increase on ammunition was based solely on a nearly decade-old article from the Chicago Defender newspaper.

That Dec. 13, 1999, article from former Defender staff writer Chinta Strausberg, headlined "Obama unveils federal gun bill," reported that then-Illinois state Sen. Obama, who was running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, proposed "to increase the federal taxes by 500 percent on the sale of firearm, ammunition [sic] – weapons he says are most commonly used in firearm deaths." According to Strausberg’s report, Obama made the proposal at an "anti-gun rally," where he proposed a host of other gun control policies.

We found no record of Obama introducing legislation to this effect while in the Illinois state Senate, or in the U.S. Senate. Now, after further research, we can find no record of the president, or any other administration official, saying that an increase in the ammunition tax is part of his current agenda either. So, thus far, an awkwardly worded sentence from an article written almost 10 years ago is the only support for the claim that Obama wants to raise the federal ammo tax.

No Bill in Congress

A search of the Library of Congress’ THOMAS Web site, returned 11 results (as of June 22) for pending legislation that mentions "ammunition." And none of the bills that have been introduced during this legislative session have proposed an increase on the federal ammunition tax.

Further, the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which collects the Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax (currently 11 percent of the sale price on ammunition and firearms other than pistols and revolvers), also says they are unaware of any plans by the administration to raise the ammunition tax. Tax and Trade Bureau spokesman Art Resnick told us in a telephone interview that the agency does "not have knowledge of any proposal like that."  

Down the Road?

We can’t say what might be proposed in the future. And in the past, there have been proposals to raise the tax on ammunition. In 1993, for example, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York, proposed to raise the tax to 50 percent on most handgun ammunition, and to more than 10,000 percent on 9-millimeter hollow-tipped Black Talon cartridges, which were advertised as having a bullet that expanded "to expose razor-sharp reinforced jacket petals." However, his plan would not have raised taxes on .22-caliber ammunition, which is used for target shooting. He proposed these increases to help finance the health care plan then being proposed by President Clinton, but the proposal was ultimately rejected.

However, based on the available evidence, we conclude that Obama may once have voiced support for a 500 percent increase in the federal tax on firearm ammunition a decade ago, but has done nothing since to indicate that he plans to pursue this during his presidency.

D’Angelo Gore

Sources

Strausberg, Chinta. "Obama unveils federal gun bill." Chicago Defender. 13 Dec 1999.

Smith, Ben. "NRA: Obama most anti-gun candidate ever, will ban guns." Politico.com. 6 Aug 2008.

Clymer, Adam. "Moynihan Asks Big Tax Increase On Ammunition." New York Times. 4 Nov 1993.

Resnick, Art. Interview with FactCheck.org. 22 Jun 2009.