By Larry Keane
Aero Precision, one of the nation’s leading firearm parts and accessories manufacturers, warned Tacoma, Wash., city officials their proposed punitive gun and ammunition tax would have consequences. Officials passed the proposed increases and instituted the taxes and fees.
Aero Precision answered back. The company and its 800 employees announced plans to expand and grow their manufacturing base in nearby Lakewood, Wash. Instead of investing in more jobs, more infrastructure, and more taxes paid to the City of Tacoma, Aero is literally sending their business elsewhere.
Despite a recent model of abject failure from nearby Seattle, Tacoma city officials went forward with a proposal in 2019 to implement a tax increase on all firearms and ammunition. The tax increase, including $25 on all firearms and between 2-5 cents on all ammunition, was sold by officials to the public as a windfall, predicted to generate an extra $30,000 a year to “provide public benefit to residents of Tacoma related to gun violence…”
The community decried the proposal and firearm-related businesses specifically warned it would lead to job losses in the community.
“I’m certain I will close. It’s the principle that people will have to pay for what they think is their right. You would not pay a tax to vote, pay a tax for free speech,” said Mary Davies, owner of Tacoma-based Mary’s Pistols.
Several firearm-related businesses joined in voicing their concerns and Aero Precision’s CEO Scott Dover added his caution as well. “This tax will affect not only over-the-counter sales, but it will eventually affect parts and components. It will just literally put us out of business if we were to stay in Tacoma with this type of tax.”
Tacoma’s City Council didn’t listen and passed the levies. Council Member Ryan Mello complained, “I think it is fundamentally unfair for all of us who are non-gun users to bare all of the burden of gun violence in our community.”
Council Member Mello should maybe think again about the tax base and receipts community-based firearm businesses bring in. In Seattle, Outdoor Emporium fled the city after a similar tax increase the year before led to a decrease in customer traffic of 32 percent, equating to $2 million in lost revenue. That’s a lot of dollars going to city coffers to pay for non-firearm related services for the non-gun users Mello describes.
Aero Precision kept its word. The Tacoma City Council passed the tax proposal in 2019 to take effect in July 2020, which was later delayed until 2021 due to COVID concerns. Still, Aero Precision followed through, announcing an expansion to nearby Lakewood.
“We are very excited to be working with the City of Lakewood on our relocation,” Dover said. “The city representatives have been extremely welcoming, and we foresee Lakewood as the long-term home for Aero Precision as we continue to position ourselves as a top tier manufacturing facility in the State of Washington.”
Lakewood’s gain is Tacoma’s loss and a sizeable loss at that. Aero’s new facility is 268,000 square feet and will welcome some of the existing 800 employees and newcomers who will sustain the new growth. That’s a huge loss for Tacoma whose council members were looking for $30,000 in extra taxes.
Positive Side Effects
Aero is a major manufacturer of modern sporting rifle parts and accessories and will be just fine. With a $60 billion firearm industry economic footprint in 2019 and 2020 firearm sales reaching historically high levels, 2021 doesn’t show signs of slowing.
More than 21 million background checks for firearm sales were conducted in 2020 and over 8.4 million were sold to first-time buyers. A full 40 percent of buyers were women. Purchases by African-Americans rose 58 percent from 2019 to 2020. Firearm retailer data for 2020 shows Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs) were among the most popular firearms sold and there are over 20 million in circulation today.
Tacoma could have avoided such an impactful business blunder that’s certain to benefit Lakewood. Community firearm retailers and the firearm industry commit millions to firearm education and safety programs every year. These Real Solutions® have led to the lowest number of unintentional firearm fatalities since data was first tracked more than 100 years ago. There’s no doubt Aero Precision will continue leading in these efforts at their new facilities.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.