If Poll Taxes Are Bad...

Jun 3, 2019

Despite the fact that poll taxes were once an accepted way of collecting revenues in the early days of the United States, they were later used to suppress voting and became a synonym for racism. Saying that, FYI, isn’t inflammatory, it’s fact.

In the not-so-distant past, a poll tax was a condition for being issued driving licenses or resident hunting and fishing licenses. Until 1966, they existed in one form or another across the country. California, Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts all had poll taxes, they weren’t limited to the “states formerly known as the Confederacy” as revisionist history might put it.

As is the case with virtually any tax applied to every citizen, the citizens least able to comply were the ones most impacted. The poor always feel the pain first. They have the least amount of padding between themselves and actions many others simply accept as a cost of doing business.

But there’s little doubt that states did use those taxes as a form of suppression. And it lasted far longer than you might imagine. That’s because 24th Amendment (passed in 1964) only eliminated the poll tax for voting in federal elections. States weren’t forced to eliminate poll taxes for “other” elections until 1966 when the case of Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled the poll tax in state elections violated the Equal Protections Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Today, a pretty good case could be made that states seeking to tax firearms out of popularity -at least by law-abiding citizens- are essentially doing the same thing via taxation.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, already on record as saying he wants to make New Jersey a national leader on gun control, has significantly tightened already strict firearms rules. But he’s far from done, despite the fact that the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs have already challenged several of his newest laws, including the 10-round magazine limit on firearms in the state.

Now, Murphy’s using the dwindling state coffers as the rationale behind boosts of current gun fees. And they’re not insignificant. In some instances, they’re boosts of a multiple of ten times or more.

He’s framed his proposed hikes- projected to bring in around $9 million in additional revenue, as “what’s needed to support the efforts of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, our State Troopers and county and local law enforcement, to fight crime and track gun violence, and to combat the trafficking of illegal guns into our state.”

The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs’ executive director Scott Bach points out that Murphy’s essentially “taxing people who are not part of the problem” and the Association promises yet another legal challenge.

One New Jersey gun dealer, when contacted about the new fees, had a one-word description for them: “usury.”

Under the new proposal, the current $2 cost to apply for a handgun purchase permit would rise to $50-an increase of 25 times. Firearms purchaser ID cards would jump from $5 to $100, handgun carry permits would go to $400 (they’re $20 today) and a retail dealer license would only increase by a factor of 10, from $50 to $500.

But he’s not done…Governor Murphy also plans to propose an ammunition excise tax of 10 percent, a firearms excise tax of 2.5 percent and an increased fee on bear hunting.

One of his platform planks was his pledge to eliminate bear hunting in the state, so he’s proposing a beefy hike there- from $2/license to $100/per license.

Governor Murphy’s proposals aren’t guaranteed -because he still needs approval from a legislature that isn’t exactly ready to give his measures their whole-hearted endorsement. As some legislators have pointed out, New Jersey is already the “most progressive state in the nation when it comes to gun reform”. They caution that the fees don’t seem to raise “that much money” - but they’re balancing their positions with the outpouring of response they’ll be forced to deal with from constituents.

This is one debate that won’t drag on forever- the state’s budget must be finalized by July 1.

And we’ll keep you posted.

—Jim Shepherd