The ‘Civil War Amendments’ (Amendments 13, 14, and 15) were swiftly adopted and ratified after the close of the Civil War in order to constitutionalize the full citizenship and equal protection under the law of former slaves and their progeny. Unfortunately, state induced discrimination continued. The ‘poll tax’ was one of the many manifestations of the “legal” discrimination of blacks via ‘Jim Crow’ laws. The point of the poll tax was to prevent blacks from exercising the franchise, thus eliminating their participation in our system of self-governance. Because the franchise is fundamental to citizenship in a self-governing political system, the poll tax was nothing less than an effort to diminish the citizenship of blacks then guaranteed by the Constitution as amended. Ultimately, the poll tax was a tax on democratic participation. The Supreme Court rightfully held in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that state poll taxes are unconstitutional because they violate the 14th Amendment.
The city of Seattle recently imposed a tax on the purchase of any gun or ammunition within the city’s limits. The tax is unique to guns and ammunition, applying to the purchase of no other goods or services. By design, the tax would increase the cost of gun ownership and use, thus discouraging purchases and negatively affecting citizens’ ability to acquire and use firearms.
America’s founders recognized the necessity of the right to keep and bear arms in establishing and maintaining liberty. Richard Henry Lee wrote that “to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms…” As a result, they adopted and ratified the Second Amendment, thereby making the Constitution expressly recognize and protect the right to keep and bear arms. Because the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental to liberty and its preservation, the gun tax is nothing less than an effort to diminish liberty.
The National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Second Amendment Foundation along with others, have filed suit against Seattle in order to seek a judicial determination that the gun tax is illegal because, among other reasons, it violates the 2nd Amendment right to purchase guns and ammunition and thus, to keep and bear arms. Just as the poll tax was an unconstitutional impediment to the constitutional right to vote, the gun tax is an unconstitutional impediment to the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The NRA should prevail in its lawsuit and the Court should rule that the Seattle gun and ammunition tax is unconstitutional as it violates the 2nd Amendment.