Panel OKs sales tax ‘holiday’ for guns, ammo

Gun shoppers look over weapons displayed at a gun show in this file photo from November 2016. (Photo by Alex Wong, Getty Images)

Gun and ammo buyers wouldn’t have to pay state sales tax during the Fourth of July weekend under a bill that passed a House subcommittee Tuesday. 

Supporters say the bill could encourage hunters to buy their guns months before the fall hunting seasons, giving them a chance to get used to the new equipment, a plus for safety. 

State Rep. Terry Baxter is a Republican from Garner. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature)

“Usually what happens is in the summer months, gun sales just really sag and then two weeks before hunting season  everybody wants to get their gun they really haven’t used that they’re not familiar with it, they’re not proficient with it,” said Rep. Terry Baxter, R-Garner, who chaired the subcommittee. “I think this would be a safety factor that would just be added in.”

Opponents say gun sales aren’t synonymous with the celebration of the nation’s birth, and they suggest that sales tax breaks, like the brief exemption for school-related goods, could be made for other items such as canoes if safety is the issue. 

House Study Bill 648 would remove the sales tax on guns and ammunition for 72 hours on the Fourth of July weekend.

Baxter said someone asked him to file the measure as a study bill, “A few other states have done this and I think it is a positive,” he said.

Baxter said the bill honors Iowa’s service men and women, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and encourages safety with the pre-hunting season purchases. He agreed with critics that the exemption perhaps shouldn’t be tied just to the Fourth of July. 

The subcommittee’s other Republican, Tedd Gassman of Scarville, said, “I think it’s a good idea. They could have picked a different day. It’s OK with me.” 

It wasn’t OK with the subcommittee’s lone Democrat, Dave Jacoby of Coralville.

State Rep. Dave Jacoby is a Democrat from Coralville. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature)

“I understand what you’re saying, but we can also have a tax free day for canoes and fishing poles,” Jacoby said. “With the same premise, you’re probably going to be an advocate for the motorcyclists to wear helmets and have a tax-free helmet day on the Fourth of July.

“I don’t equate tax-free with the Fourth of July,” Jacoby said. “I guess why not have one for Christmas presents? I think it sets a terrible precedent if we’re going to pick and choose winners and losers for tax exemption. I’d like to see something across the board that helps families.”

Baxter and Gassman signed the bill, sending it on to a full House Economic Growth Committee. Jacoby declined. 

The Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church and the League of Women’s Voters of Iowa have registered to lobby against the bill. No one registered to support it. Among the eight lobbyists registered as “undecided” are two representatives of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association.  

Rep. Charlie McConkey, D-Council Bluffs, came by the meeting to oppose the bill. “This is encouraging using firearms to celebrate the Fourth of July,” McConkey said. 

Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.