37 House Democrats roll out a bill to hit AR-15-style weapons with a 1,000% tax that could pass Congress without Republican support

Don Beyer gun control gun safety
Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia at a Capitol Hill news conference on gun safety in 2019.Andrew Harnik/AP Photo
  • 37 House Democrats rolled out a bill to impose a 1,000% tax on AR-15-style weapons.

  • It's intended to bypass Republican opposition in a party-line spending bill.

  • Three experts said the plan would qualify for reconciliation.

Thirty-seven House Democrats introduced legislation on Tuesday to levy a 1,000% tax on AR-15-style rifles in an effort to try and severely restrict access to the weapons through a maneuver that wouldn't require any GOP support.

Rep. Donald Beyer of Virginia formally rolled out the "Assault Weapons Excise Act" alongside 36 House Democrats spanning the ideological spectrum. Some of them are centrists who face difficult re-election bids in the November midterms.

The 1,000% tax would apply to military-style "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines capable of carrying 10 rounds or more, adding thousands of dollars to the final sales price of such guns in a bid to severely restrict their access. The cost of those weapons typically range between $500 and $2,000, depending on location and other variables. That means the plan would add $5,000 and $20,000 to the final price tag.

It would exempt ammunition, along with recreational weapons used for hunting. It also wouldn't apply to the estimated 20 million AR-15-style weapons legally circulating around the US.

"Congress must take action to stem the flood of weapons of war into American communities, which have taken a terrible toll in Uvalde, Buffalo, Tulsa, and too many other places," Beyer said in a press release, referring to a recent string of high-profile mass shootings.

"I have voted in the past for commonsense gun safety reforms only to see them run aground on Senate Republicans' filibuster; my bill presents a pathway to bypass that obstruction and enact lifesaving measures," the Virginia Democrat said. The filibuster is the 60-vote threshold that most bills need to pass in the Senate, meaning any Democratic bill needs 10 Republican votes to advance at the moment.

Co-sponsors included Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the House Progressive Caucus; Rep. Katie Porter of California; Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey; and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York.

The measure would amount to a steep tax unlike any federal levy now on the books for firearms. The federal government already imposes a 10% tax on certain handguns while ammunition is taxed at 11%.

It's intended to pass through budget reconciliation, a legislative maneuver allowing Democrats to sidestep GOP resistance and approve legislation with a simple majority vote. Democrats employed the tactic to pass President Joe Biden's stimulus law as well as the House-approved Build Back Better bill that later died in the 50-50 Senate.

Only measures that are deemed to have a large impact on the federal budget can be put into such a bill. Three budget experts told Insider that the bill would likely qualify to be included in a reconciliation package that Democrats hope to revive by summer's end, as it is structured as a tax.

"I think it passes the tests on the various requirements to qualify for reconciliation," William G. Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and GOP budget expert, told Insider.

His view was shared by Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America's Future at the Progressive Policy Institute, another think tank. Ritz said the proposed tax rate is easy to adjust to ensure it generates enough revenue so it complies with the strict rules of reconciliation.

"A pure excise tax that isn't set so high as to end all sales should pass the Byrd rule," Zach Moller, director of the economic program at the Third Way think tank previously told Insider, referring the rule governing eligibility for a filibuster-proof bill. It's unclear how much money the tax on military-style assault rifles would raise.

For at least four decades, Democrats have pushed plans to greatly step up taxes on some guns and ammunition to discourage people from buying them and curb gun violence. One proposal in 2020 from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would have tripled the tax on handguns to 30% and nearly quintupled the tax rate on shells and cartridges to 50%.

The Beyer bill lacked a Senate Democratic co-sponsor, typically considered a sign of support in both chambers. Senate Democrats appear to be treading cautiously around the Beyer legislation.

They're trying to hash out a final gun safety package with Republicans that include a modest expansion of background checks along with fresh spending on mental health initiatives and school safety. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled he's willing to vote for it if the legislation reflects a bipartisan framework released on Sunday.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut has spearheaded the gun safety talks which yielded a breakthrough over the weekend. He held off from weighing in on the bill for now. "I have to take a look at it," Murphy told Insider. Others like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont were noncommittal as well.

Warren was warm to the idea. "It's important to use every tool available and that includes taxes in order to put an end to the availability of weapons that are used for murdering people," she told Insider last week.

Read the original article on Business Insider