MO lawmakers consider eliminating gun tax, but not food


The Missouri Senate is considering a bill to exempt the sales tax on guns.

The Missouri Senate is considering a bill to exempt the sales tax on guns.

Neil Nakahod

Missouri would be the only state in the country that taxes food but does not tax gun sales under a bill being considered by the Missouri Senate.

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The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, would exempt sales of firearms and ammunition made in Missouri from all state and local sales taxes.

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The Missouri Senate advanced a version of the bill last week that included an amendment that would have eliminated the state’s 1.225% sales tax on non-prepared food. But Missouri Senate Republicans this week employed a rare procedural move to strip the provision saying it would’ve been too expensive.

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“The monumental overcoming of that fiscal note would be something too large,” Brattin said on the floor this week, referring to a legislative estimate that found the proposal including the food tax amendment could cost the state more than $373 million beginning in fiscal year 2025.

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Missouri Democrats have excoriated the decision to strip out the provision, saying it’s another example of Republicans prioritizing guns over a necessity like groceries. They point out that Brattin’s bill comes as Missouri has seen high rates of gun violence in the state’s urban areas.

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“When it came to cutting taxes, I would argue for single moms who are trying to make ends meet, at the grocery store, they said no. It just tells you where their priorities are,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat, told The Star. “Their priorities are not with families, their priorities are not with people, they’re with guns and corporations.”

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Brattin’s bill would also provide gun and ammunition sellers a tax credit to offset federal excise taxes.

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A vote on the bill was delayed Monday night after Democrats and state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, an Arnold Republican, separately tried to add the grocery tax exemption back into the bill.

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Kansas City saw its second-deadliest year in history last year with 171 killings, marking the third year in a row with staggering violence.

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Missouri, which taxes groceries at a lower rate than its 4.225% sales tax rate, is one of just 13 states that places a tax on food.

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Other states have considered exempting guns from sales taxes, in addition to Missouri. West Virginia, for example, enacted a sales tax exemption for small firearms and ammo in 2021, but that state does not tax food.

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Five states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon — have no sales tax at all.

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Coleman, who was elected to the Senate in November, has previously tried to remove the state’s sales tax on groceries while serving in the House. She said last month that her legislation would save Missourians an estimated $144 million each year on groceries and help offset pressures from inflation.

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Brattin’s gun sales tax legislation comes as Missouri Democrats have renewed focus on gun control despite extreme pushback from Republicans. A poll released last week by Saint Louis University and British pollster YouGov found that a strong majority of Missourians would support stricter gun control measures even as Missouri lawmakers look to further loosen laws around firearms.

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On Tuesday, a day after the Senate considered Brattin’s legislation, a federal judge overturned a 2021 Republican state law that declared certain federal gun laws “invalid” if they don’t have a state-level equivalent.

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During a news conference about the judge’s decision on Tuesday, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas criticized the Missouri sales tax bill. He said it was a political grandstanding by Republicans.

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“I don’t think that there’s anything in the Missouri legislature right now that is committed to making literally any Missourian safer,” he said. “It’s about scoring cheap political points. There are a lot of stunts going on. There aren’t a lot of solutions.”

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While Democrats strongly criticized Brattin’s core legislation, some have been able to tack on various tax exemption amendments.

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An amendment by state Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat, would exempt diapers from sales taxes. And another amendment would exempt from sales taxes feminine hygiene products, including tampons, pads and liners.

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If Brattin’s bill comes up for a vote in the future, the Senate will also consider an amendment by state Sen. Angela Moseley, a St. Louis Democrat, that would exempt sales taxes on groceries.

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State Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican,who supported Brattin’s legislation, pushed back on the argument that Republicans want to exempt guns from taxes but not food in an interview with The Star on Tuesday.

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Hoskins said he’s supported a sales tax exemption on groceries in the past. But, he said, the provision needed to be removed to pass the Senate Committee on Fiscal Oversight, which studies the economic impacts of legislation.

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He criticized Democrats for supporting other tax exemptions.

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“They started making comparisons that ‘Oh, well, how could you support this but not a sales tax exemption on groceries?’” Hoskins said. “But then those same Democrats, they didn’t use that argument when they voted for the film tax credit as well.”

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Star reporter Jonathan Shorman contributed to this story.

This story was originally published March 8, 2023 at 6:30 am.

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Keisen Bayless is a reporter for the Kansas City Star covering Missouri government and politics, and is from St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri with an emphasis in investigative journalism. He previously worked on projects and surveys in coastal South Carolina. In 2020, he was awarded South Carolina’s highest honor for assertive journalism.





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