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Lawmakers propose taxing dealers and manufacturers of guns, ammunition to fund Maryland trauma system

Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) summarizes proposed legislation to tax manufacturers and dealers of guns and ammunition at press conference Jan. 17, 2024. Money generated would fund the state’s trauma system. Photo by William J. Ford.

Some Maryland lawmakers are proposing legislation to tax dealers and manufacturers of guns and ammunition to fund the state’s trauma system.

Del. Bernice Mireku-North (D-Montgomery), who will sponsor the Comprehensive Community Safety Funding Act in the House of Delegates, said an excise tax would generate an estimated $13 million. The money, Mireku-North said, would also come from firearms associated with mass shootings, which burden the state’s trauma systems.

“The trauma of gun violence is not an anomaly because gun violence is a public health crisis,” she said during a press conference Wednesday in Annapolis. “It’s far too commonplace, which is why we are working together to find comprehensive and common-sense solutions.”

The legislation hasn’t been filed yet, but Del. Emily Shetty (D-Montgomery) who will be a co-sponsor, said the money would fund the state’s Trauma Physician Services fund. She said it currently generates $12 million annually. An additional $9.5 million was appropriated in the fund for this current fiscal year, she said.

“The system needs more money,” she said.

Some of the money would also fund programs such as those through the Governor’s Office of Crime, Prevention, Youth and Victim Services, the state’s Homicide Victims Grant Program and a state center for firearm violence prevention and intervention, a bill Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced last week.

A similar excise tax law passed in California that goes into effect July 1. According to that state’s Tax and Fee Administration (FET), the “Firearm and Ammunition Excise Tax” requires licensed firearms dealers, ammunition venders and firearms manufacturers to register a FET certificate with the state. They must pay an excise tax of 11% of “the gross receipts from the retail sales of firearms, firearm precursor parts, or ammunition in California.”

Shetty said the excise tax idea came from serving on the Commission to Study Trauma Center Funding in Maryland. She said a final report could be released Friday.

Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), who will sponsor the act in the Senate and also served on the commission, said according to data received Wednesday, the state’s shock trauma center in Baltimore experienced an increase of patients of gunshot wounds from 5% in 2013 to 10% last year.

“Fortunately, most Marylanders will never have to rely on our trauma system. But for those who are severely injured by an act of violence, or an accident, there is no better place in the world…than Maryland’s trauma system,” she said. “We have an obligation as a community and as a General Assembly to ensure that when someone is medevaced to a trauma center, that our system has the resources it needs to save lives.”

Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County) said the legislation could infringe on the Second Amendment of “law-abiding” gun owners and businesses. In addition, he said the state doesn’t house many gun manufacturers and could avoid paying taxes by not selling their products in the state.

“I haven’t seen the bill that is being proposed. But I’m dubious that any bill to extract millions of dollars from gun manufacturers or ammunition manufacturers here in Maryland would not produce the revenues that the proponents of the bill suspect. It sounds like a politically attractive thing to do for someone who’s running for Congress, but probably not something that will ultimately have a positive effect here in Maryland,” he said, referencing Elfreth’s campaign for U.S. House.

‘How much is a life worth?’

About an hour after Wednesday’s press conference, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a policy briefing that focused on medical perspectives on gun violence and gun violence prevention.

Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at the University of Maryland Medical System’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, attended the press conference and Senate briefing.

Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief with University of Maryland Medical System, testifies before Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Jan. 17, 2024. Photo by William J. Ford.

Scalea described surgery he conducted three months ago on a patient who suffered a gunshot wound in his chest and arrived without any blood pressure. The doctor, who said the patient’s right lung had to be removed, said the mortality for that injury is 95%.

Scalea said the patient was in the hospital for at least two months. The cost of his care: $500,000.

“I would ask you how much is a life worth? That’s the whole point of the trauma system,” he said.

Several employees from Johns Hopkins University and its hospital testified before the Senate committee about the university’s “Break the Cycle” violence intervention program. The program serves victims of shootings, stabbings or violent assaults, offering connections to services such as mental health and addiction recovery, job training and employment programs and transportation vouchers.

About 20% of program participants are under the age of 18, said Diane Lepley, a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital and executive director of care coordination programs at the hospital.

Panelists suggested potential changes to state law to combat gun violence, including expansion of hospital intervention programs across the state’s emergency departments, greater access to mental health services for victims and families and creation of temporary housing and transportation assistance for victims of crime.

The state faces a tight budget this year, and spending on new programs, or to increase spending on current programs, may not happen.

“We’re in a tough year of budget constraints and the like,” said House Majority Whip Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), who spoke at Wednesday’s press conference and will co-sponsor the community safety act. “But the one thing I really want you all to take away is that from the House and the Senate, and from what the governor has already said, that all of Maryland’s leadership is dedicated to making sure we stay on with the families and we address the scourge of gun violence.”


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Lawmakers propose taxing dealers and manufacturers of guns, ammunition to fund Maryland trauma system