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Excise tax proposed to boost funding for Maryland’s trauma system

Photo by Aleksander George/Getty Images.

Long-promised legislation on a proposed excise tax on guns and ammunition to fund Maryland’s trauma system was filed late last week.

According to Senate Bill 784, sponsored by Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), an 11% excise tax would be imposed on the gross receipts of firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition.

The state’s Trauma Physicians Services Fund, which helps cover costs for medical care by trauma physicians, for Medicaid-enrolled patients and for other trauma related on-call and standby expenses, currently generates $12 million annually primarily through a motor vehicle registration fee. Maryland currently has 10 facilities that are designated as trauma care centers across the state.

An additional $9.5 million was appropriated in the fund for this current fiscal year. Now lawmakers are eyeing additional revenue sources.

When introducing the proposal last month, Elfreth said the state’s shock trauma center in Baltimore saw the percentage of patients with gunshot wounds increase from 5% in 2013 to 10% last year.

“At one point or another, somebody’s going to have a family member or a neighbor, or a colleague, who gets in a car accident, who experiences a gunshot wound, or something traumatic. They’re going to utilize that trauma system,” Elfreth said in an interview Friday. “These are tragic accidents or acts of violence. It is critical that it’s a service that we’ve come to expect and it’s there for generations to come.”

Funding within the legislation, called the Comprehensive Community Safety Funding Act, would be dispersed in various ways, such as 23% to the state’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Program. This program directs money toward violence prevention efforts, specifically gun violence, based on research and data through various health programs and initiatives.

The remaining money would be dispersed this way:

  • 44% to the state Trauma Physicians Services Fund.
  • 29% to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical System.
  • 2% to the survivors of homicide victims grant program within the Governor’s Office of Crime and Prevention and Policy.
  • 2% to the proposed Center for Firearm Violence Prevention and Intervention, which would operate within the state Department of Health.

A fiscal note hasn’t been published to summarize how much money could be generated from the tax, but Del. Bernice Mireku-North (D-Montgomery), sponsor of the identical House Bill 935, has said the estimated excise tax may generate $13 million.

The goal would be to supplement and not supplant any other funding, according to the legislation.

Gross receipts from a “federally licensed firearms dealer” wouldn’t include cash discounts allowed and taken on sales, any sale price of items returned by customers when a refund is cash or credit, and any federal, state, county or municipal tax imposed.

A firearm accessory would include a magazine, a grip and body armor.

A person or business that fails to file an excise tax return could be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to five years imprisonment, a fine up to $5,000, or both.

The tax wouldn’t be imposed on a law enforcement agency, the National Guard, or U.S. armed forces.

The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 14 before the Budget and Taxation Committee. The House version will be heard Feb. 22 before the Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Howard), chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said during a briefing with reporters Friday that another piece of legislation will be introduced soon to generate more revenue to fund the shock trauma system.

Senate Budget and Taxation Chair Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Howard). File photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“We have the world’s best. It is something Maryland should be very proud of. About a 96% success rate,” he said. “It’s something we want to hold on to and keep for our communities.”

House Minority Whip Jesse T. Pippy (R-Frederick) doesn’t disagree about the importance of supporting the state’s trauma system, but opposes doing so through further taxes.

“I find that a very specific tax on ammunition and guns to be likely unconstitutional,” he said after a pro forma House session Friday. “Although I don’t disagree with the merits of supporting shock trauma and other organizations like that, I think assigning a tax increase, particularly on the Second Amendment, is egregious and inappropriate, at best.”

Kelly Small, a gun owner and gun rights advocate from St. Mary’s County who traveled to Annapolis on Friday to testify against another piece of legislation, agrees.

“Most crimes of firearms are committed by people breaking the law. All of us law abiding citizens would pay for the medical treatment of their crimes. I don’t like that,” she said. “But I like the victim of the crime to have medical accessibility… I don’t like the tax on law abiding firearm owners.”


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Excise tax proposed to boost funding for Maryland’s trauma system