Tax Analysts Blog

Remember the Alamo, Buy a Gun

Posted on Mar 6, 2013

This story comes from Texas. And it’s politically incorrect. Nothing gets liberal ire up like proposing to put more weapons in the hands of citizens. And that is exactly what some in Texas want to do. Rep. Jeff Leach (R) wants to give all Texans a sales tax break on the purchase of firearms and ammunition. Leach wants to make Texas Independence Day a day in which you can purchase firearms, ammunition, and hunting supplies sans sales tax. Texas Independence Day is March 2 (and yes, I know that despite the headline, the Alamo fell on March 6).

The sales tax holiday would apply to shotguns, rifles, pistols, revolvers, other handguns, cleaning supplies, gun cases, gun safes, optics, ammunition, archery equipment, hunting stands, blinds, and decoys. Basically, it will apply to everything Mayor Bloomberg finds repulsive. In fact, Leach says his motivation is to fight the federal government’s attempts to infringe on our Second Amendment rights.”


The gun manufacturers love the idea of a sales tax holiday. And the NRA is way on board. Gun control groups think anyone who owns or wants to buy a gun are nuts. I must confess that I am a member of the NRA and an avid supporter, albeit no fanatic, of the Second Amendment. But sales tax holidays for guns, like sales tax holidays for everything else, are terrible tax policy. They are political gimmicks – and nothing more.


Sales tax holidays are touted as a means for poor working families to be able to shop for back-to-school items for little Jane and Johnny. And that purpose elicits some sympathy. After all, we wouldn't want the little ones going back to school in last year's clothes or their older siblings' hand-me-downs. But now, in Texas, sales tax holidays would be used to help folks purchase a new Smith & Wesson 357 magnum.


Leach says he wants to protect the Second Amendment. Personally, as I have said before, I'd like to see someone sponsor a bill to celebrate the 21st Amendment by eliminating all taxes on booze (and maybe cigarettes, because a lot of people smoke when they drink). I would rather see Leach designate some random day Second Amendment Celebration Day and forgo screwing around with the tax laws.


South Carolina and Louisiana have had gun sales tax holidays. And about a dozen states have general sales tax holidays. In all cases, they are lauded as an effective way to spur economic development and growth. The idea is the people will shop more. That is ridiculous.


All sales tax holidays do is change the timing of purchases, not the overall amount. This is true for guns. If you have the money to buy one Desert Eagle 44 magnum semiautomatic for $1,600, will you buy two or three because of the holiday? Even if you're getting ready for the zombie apocalypse, there are probably some limits on how many guns you can buy.

Read Comments (7)

Bill AbendrothMar 5, 2013

Three quick points.

First, there are two schools of thought re what the Constitution "means." One
group believes there is some "meaning" behind the various provisions, that was
true both in 1787 and 2013. The other (which I belong to) believes that's a
fool's errand: what possible definition could be attached to "regulate commerce
between the states (and Indian Nations)" that would have any meaning for 226
years? Under our system of government, the Constitution (ultimately) means
what five members of the Supreme Court says it means (with all the various
institutional checks involved. Sort of). So when people kvetch about the
Second Amendment and "well regulated militias"....too bad. Even if I agree
that that the Second Amendment shouldn't extend to individuals (and I do), the
fact remains I don't live in DC nor wear a black dress.....Therefore, the
Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own and possess firearms.

Second, what you should remember about the Alamo, was that the Texans were
trying to secede, because General Santa Anna had declared slavery illegal in
Mexico. So, Remember the Alamo, Kids! Keep Texas a slave state.

Finally (and finally dealing with the point of your excellent note), I think
sales taxes as a rule are poor tax policy (I live in a state--Oregon--with no
sales tax). But sales tax "holidays," in my personal opinion, are one of those
rare events that take a bad policy, and make it even worse. If you need a
sales tax to generate revenue, then the tax should generate revenue. If there
are items that shouldn't be covered by sales taxes for policy reasons (food
from grocery stores, children's clothes, etc), then exclude those items from
the tax. But don't have the occasional holiday, and think you're accomplishing
something (unless your goal is, as Mr. Brunori so capably points out, silly,
opportunistic, and pointless grandstanding).

David BrunoriMar 5, 2013

Mr. Abendroth,

I am glad you agree with me on the sales tax holiday issue. They are the
epitome of bad tax and government policy. They are political gimmicks. By the
way, I did not realize (or had forgotten) about the slavery issue. It puts the
heroics of the Alamo in perspective. Thank you.

M SullivanMar 6, 2013

Mr. Brunori -

My understanding is that in 2010 Wyoming stopped trying to collect sales tax at
gun shows because the Department of Revenue's employees were threatened by
participants. I imagine that sales tax compliance at guns shows might be below
average. If that's true, a tax holiday for gun show sales might not be much a
real benefit (imagine a tax holiday for kids' lemonade stands)--except to
grandstanding politicians.

vivian darkbloomMar 6, 2013

I realize this is a blog devoted to tax and not history; however, speaking of
history, Tax Analysts has a proud history of promoting factual accuracy.
Here’s what that authoritative source on history called “Wikipedia” has to say
about the causes of the Texas Revolution:

“The role of slavery is still debated immensely as the contemporary primary
sources of the era do not mention it usually, unlike the primary sources of The
Civil War. Only a handful of primary sources mentioning slavery as a cause have
been found, with the vast majority of primary sources attributing the revolt to
other causes[15] Slavery is not mentioned as a motivation for independence in
Texas' Declaration of Independence.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_revolution

While slavery may have played some role, it appears that the revolution was
caused more by a disagreement over tax and immigration policies rather than the
abolishment of slavery.

As for sales taxes, I agree that the proposed holiday is pure political
posturing. It’s a silly stunt.

But, Brunori's suggestion to abolish all taxes on booze and cigarettes would
appear not to be a stunt. I’m all for freedom and liberty, but I'm a
pragmatist and therefore have to question that call. Sure, a disproportionate
percentage of those taxes fall on the poor and probably inhibits their freedom
and liberty to smoke and booze; but, unlike other “taxes”, it is imposed on
activities that have clear and significant external costs, particularly when
those activities, as Mr. Brunori suggests, are engaged in tandem.

If one wants to expend energy and political capital on eliminating taxes on the
poor, I would suggest a much better target would be the state lottery programs
which is clearly a tax whether they call it one or not. Those programs
disproportionately tax the poor and, unlike the taxes on booze and cigarettes,
they are specifically designed to encourage self-destructive behavior rather
than discourage it. I understand Oregon raises a significant amount of its
revenue from its lottery program. That program is likely necessary, in part,
because of the lack of a sales tax. Come to think of it, the liquor, the
smokes and the lottery tickets seem to be a natural trifecta. Eliminating the
lottery tax on the poor would give them greater resources and therefore more
freedom to smoke and booze even if the latter are subject to sales and excise
taxes.

David BrunoriMar 6, 2013

Mr. or Ms. Sullivan.

Good reference to the Wyoming debacle. Fortunately, that issue was resolved.
There are two kinds of sales at gun shows. Licensed gun dealers sell (and
generally collect the tax). But there are a lot of private sales (which some
call the gun show loopholes). Like private sales of anything the latter goes
untaxed.

David BrunoriMar 6, 2013

Dear Viv,

I was being facetious about ending the tax on cigarettes and alcohol. They are
taxes I pay because some people don't like my lifestyle. You are 100 percent
correct about lotteries and gambling. They are the most cynical, unfair,
reprehensible ways to fund government. In my experience, both liberals (because
they want more money) and conservatives (because they would rather these hidden
taxes that salient ones) are equally guilty.

vivian darkbloomMar 6, 2013

David,

There were some earlier hints dropped here that you may be a staunch
Libertarian, so one never knows how far that may lead one. Either I've got to
re-tune my antennae for facetiousness or you've got to drop more obvious hints.

As a reformed smoker, I do strongly disagree with that lifestyle. Alcohol's
quite ok and, depending on the vintage, one should be perfectly willing to pay
a little tax for it.

Thank God you don't play the lottery---otherwise, I'd have to stop taking you
seriously.

Apropos seriousness---your post got me to thinking: Let's assume (and I think
it's a fact) that cigarettes are consumed disproportionately by the poor, and
thus those who smoke are disproportionately taxed. One effect of the high
taxes on cigarettes has been to encourage quite a number of persons
(including, I presume, "the poor") to quit completely, would that not mean
that, for those who quit, it has made them not only healthier, but wealthier?
I would be curious to know whether, in the aggregate, and seen from that
perspective, those high taxes have not actually benefitted "the poor".

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