How one lawmaker wants to curb gun sales: A 1,000% tax on assault weapons

One House Democrat has a novel idea for curbing sales of assault weapons like AR-15s, the type of firearm used by both shooters in the Uvalde and Buffalo massacres last month: Place a 1,000% excise tax on any type of assault-style firearm, pushing up the price beyond the means of many potential buyers. 

Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia is working on a bill now and hopes to introduce it in the next few days, spokesman Aaron Fritschner said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. The proposed legislation isn’t a ban, but would simply introduce a tax on these weapons, which is “a power clearly delegated to Congress under Article I of the Constitution,” he added.

Additionally, because the bill would be a revenue measure, it could be introduced through the reconciliation process, which would only require approval from 50 senators, instead of the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation. Only “a simple majority” would be required to get the bill passed, Fritschner added. 

Even though most Americans continue to favor stricter gun laws, Republican lawmakers have opposed banning assault-style weapons like AR-15s, which have been used in many mass shootings and whose ammunition travels up to three times the speed of sound. With prices ranging from about $500 to $2,000, AR-style firearms are affordable for many consumers.

An excise tax of 1,000% would mean an addition cost of $5,000 on a $500 assault-style weapon, and an additional $20,000 for a $2,000 firearm. 

“The easiest way to understand the basic concept of the legislation Congressman Beyer is drafting is if you imagine taking the Assault Weapons Ban Act of 2021 and changing it so that instead of an outright ban it imposes a 1,000% excise tax on manufacturers, producers, and importers of the same items,” Fritschner said. 

The proposal would make an exception for purchases by government entities, such as federal, state or local law enforcement as well as the U.S. military, he added. 

Sales of assault-style weapons

Assault weapons like the AR-15 are military-style firearms that are considered semiautomatic weapons, and which were banned from 1994 through 2004. Since the ban expired in 2004, sales of these weapons have increased as gun makers manufactured new types of AR-15s and other assault-style firearms and marketed them as essential for self-defense. 

In 2020, there were about 20 million AR-style firearms in the U.S., according to the firearms trade group NSSF. About half of all rifles made in the U.S. or imported in 2018 were AR-style weapons, the group said. 

Some manufacturers have introduced payment plans to help consumers purchase AR-style weapons, such as Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the gun used by the Uvalde shooter. Daniel Defense offers “buy now, pay later” plans — popularized by companies like Peloton to convince consumers to pony up for pricey items by breaking down the cost into monthly payments. 

For instance, one of Daniel Defense’s most expensive guns, an AR-15 style weapon that retails for more than $2,300, can be purchased for monthly payments of about $108. With the excise tax that Beyer intends to propose, that payment could balloon to $1,000 a month. 

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