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Should Tennessee have a tax-free holiday for guns?

Brandon Paykamian • Jan 30, 2018 at 11:46 PM

Every year, back-to-school shoppers in Tennessee enjoy a sales tax-free weekend for school supplies and clothes. Now, some state legislators are calling for a similar period exempting firearms from taxes to give residents more bang for their bucks.

The Tennessee House Finance, Ways and Means Committee will meet Wednesday morning to discuss a measure proposed by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-36th, which aims to officially declare the first weekend of September as the “Second Amendment Sales Tax Holiday.”

House Bill 744 would establish a tax holiday much like the annual education-related tax-free weekend for clothes, school supplies and computers in July, except this time, guns and ammunition would be exempted from sales taxes.

State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-6th, who has been a proponent of similar bills in the past, said he supports any bill that would expand access to firearms.

“I agree with a sales tax-free weekend on guns and ammo for a couple reasons,” he said. “Some people are able to feed their families by hunting deer and hogs, which can be hunted year-round, but also, celebrating the Second Amendment is a primary reason we are a free nation. I think it’s a great idea.”

State Sen. Rusty Crowe said cheaper firearms means safer families and also supports a temporary sales tax cut for firearms.

“Many who struggle financially are living or working in high crime areas, and for many, the investment in a firearm would be a challenge financially,” Crowe said in an emailed statement. “This legislation could allow citizens to better afford protection.”

Rep. Matthew Hill, R-7th, expressed similar views on the legislation.

“As a Conservative, I have a responsibility to protect the Second Amendment rights of our law-abiding citizens right here in Washington County. This includes their right to legally purchase firearms,” Hill said in an emailed statement. “Our actions as elected officials must not infringe on the constitutional rights of our upstanding men, women and families.

“This sales tax holiday provides a way for Tennesseans to exercise their constitutional rights, make gun ownership more accessible and affordable, and help small businesses across the state.”

In the Senate, Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers sponsored the companion bill, but she resigned in August to focus on her run for the governor’s seat. It’s unclear if her replacement, former House member Mark Pody, will take up the bill. It was last scheduled for a hearing May 9, but was not taken up on that date.

The bill will likely be opposed by some of the state’s Democratic legislators. Doug Kufner, who serves as the caucus press secretary for Tennessee’s House Republicans, said he looks forward to seeing the debate unfold in Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“It’ll have a healthy debate during the committee process. We’ll see what happens,” Kufner said.

Groups such as the Tennessee Firearm Association, which recently condemned Memphis-area legislators Sen. Lee Harris, D-29th, and Rep. Dwayne Thompson, D-96th for proposing a ban on bump-fire stocks and other devices that increase guns’ rates of fire, support the idea of a sales tax-free weekend for gun purchases.

John Harris, the gun organization’s executive director, said, however, that the language of the bill could be more concise and less “ambiguous” about what a firearm is. He also said the sales tax-free weekend should’ve been proposed for November or December, which are the two biggest months for gun and ammunition sales. 

“I think it's got a little bit of ambiguity because, for example, Section 3 A1 mentions weapons designed to propel a projectile by an explosion, but it also includes ‘BB guns,’” which do not have any explosive characteristics. I think it needs more clarity,” he said.

In regard to the section that mentions “BB guns,” John Harris said it should’ve specified “air rifles,” which can also propel .22 rounds rather than pellets.

“I think they might have to fix some of the wording, but the general idea is not something we would have any objection to at all,” he added.

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