Proposal to tax guns and ammo to support crime victim services once again advancing at the legislature

Andrew Kenney/CPR News
Senate Democrats huddle on Friday, May 3, 2024.

A bill that would ask Colorado voters to impose an excise tax on gun and ammunition purchases, with the money raised going to behavioral health support for veterans and youth and services for victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes, is once again moving forward at the statehouse. 

The Democratic bill passed the Senate Finance Committee Saturday on a party line 4-3 vote, after a significant amendment that reduced the proposed tax by about half. 

“I think that the amendment that you ran here, lowering it to 6.5 percent, is a step in that right direction,” said Democratic Sen. Kyle Mullica, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, as he explained his decision to back the bill.

Mullica was the committee’s swing vote and worked with sponsors to address his main concern, that the bill’s original proposal, an 11 percent tax on gun dealers, manufacturers, and ammunition sales, was too steep and put too much burden on gun owners. 

The committee vote caps off several days of pressure on Mullica from the Democratic Women’s Caucus, a voluntary membership group consisting of 23 lawmakers from both chambers. 

The caucus released a public letter last week saying they were extremely disappointed in Mullica for stalling on scheduling it for a hearing, “and indicating he will not pass it if he does.”  

Mullica said that was never the case, only that he was using the extra time to work with advocates on a compromise to try to get to a yes vote.

“That was disappointing,” he said about the Women’s Caucus letter. “I think there were just some falsehoods in that statement that threw a wrench in it and made it harder. The conversations were going on with the advocates and the sponsors that whole time.” 

The Senate amendment lowered the money the tax is expected to raise annually by about $30 million. Mullica said he’d like to see advocates make up for some of that reduction by increasing certain court fees. Advocates hope to do that by amending a different bill moving through the legislature that would update the Crime Victim Compensation Act.

“We're also looking at making sure that there's a responsibility put on perpetrators as well,” said Mullica, who is from Adams County. “I think that that's an important piece of the conversation and I know it's something I hear in my district.”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Sen. Kyle Mullica at the Capitol, March 1, 2023.

The proposal would take away the power of judges to waive court fees for people who use guns as a part of certain crimes, according to Brie Franklin, head of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 

Franklin said there has been a lot of legislation in recent years to reduce or waive court fees for defendants, which she agrees with, but the net result is less funding for victims services. 

Franklin said she and other advocates had been working with Mullica to try to find a middle ground that would meet the needs of victims.

“We know increasing taxes is not something many people want, but it's just a critical need. Without this money, then victim services are going to be decimated in Colorado and especially in smaller rural communities,” she said. 

The Senate Finance Committee was a critical step for the bill. With just three days left in the session, it’s now headed to a vote of the full Senate. It could get a final Senate vote as soon as Tuesday.

“We’re happy that it got out of the Senate Finance Committee and we feel like this is something the voters would be able to weigh in on and hopefully it’ll be on the November ballot,” said Franklin. 

Opponents of an excise tax say they support more funds for crime victims, but think it’s the wrong approach to ask gun owners to foot the bill.

“We are going to be imposing a sin tax on firearms and ammunition,” said Ian Escalante, who testified against the bill on behalf of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a second amendment advocacy organization.  

“We are going after a group of law-abiding citizens who just want to go out to buy firearms to defend themselves in what is becoming an increasingly dangerous world.”

After the vote on Saturday, Escalante attacked Mullica in particular on social media: “Today in the Senate Finance Committee a new species of invertebrate has been discovered.”  

For his part, Mullica said he felt comfortable taking the proposed tax increase to voters knowing that people found guilty of crimes would also have to pay for part of it. 

“I’m not sure if it was completely appropriate to put the full burden of the tax on the gun owners. I obviously fully respected the programs that the funds went to, that’s why I was working so hard to find a solution because those are so important.”

The bill’s passage is not assured though; if it does make it through the Senate, it will have to go back to the House to approve the proposed lower tax rate.