Watson v. City of Seattle (Majority)Annotate this Case
This case centered on Seattle Ordinance 124833 (Ordinance), which imposed a "Firearms and Ammunition Tax" on each firearm and round of ammunition sold within the city limits. Its stated purpose was to raise revenue for public health research relating to gun violence and to fund related social programs. Two individual gun purchasers, Phillip Watson and Ray Carter (collectively, “Watson”) filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of the Ordinance, arguing the Ordinance was actually a regulation, not a tax, and was preempted by RCW 9.41.290 in any case. Watson also argued that even if the Ordinance was a tax, it exceeded Seattle's delegated taxing authority. The Superior Court ruled in favor of Seattle, holding that the Ordinance imposed an authorized tax and that it was not preempted. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed: a charge intended to raise revenue for the public benefit is a tax. “While courts should be dubious of regulations masquerading as taxes (and vice versa), in this case Watson offers no convincing evidence that the Ordinance has a regulatory purpose or intent. It is a tax.” RCW 9.41.290 preempted only municipal gun “regulation,” not taxation.