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Costs Of Assault Weapons Ban Weighed

If Floridians approve a constitutional amendment next year to block possession of assault weapons, a panel of economists on Thursday estimated the state budget could take a $26.9 million hit in lost revenue. 

But the head of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research said the amount would likely be smaller because revenue lost in taxes from gun sales would be balanced out with other purchases that can be taxed.

“More than half of the direct sales-tax loss would be offset by redirected spending,” Amy Baker, the office’s coordinator and a lead state economist, told panel members as they tried to figure out the financial impact of the proposed amendment, which backers hope to put on the November 2020 ballot.

The ballot proposal, spearheaded by the political committee Ban Assault Weapons NOW, would prohibit possession of “semi-automatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device.”

It includes an exception for people who own the guns at the time the measure would take effect. Those people would be able to keep assault weapons if they register the guns with the state.

Baker estimated the loss of revenue from the measure would have a “minimal” impact on the state’s roughly $90 billion budget.

“It’s a very small composition of the budget,” she said.

To determine the economic impact of the proposed amendment, economists are looking at a number of variables, including a loss in sales taxes from assault-type weapons, ammunition and gun accessories, as well as impacts on government contracts and tourism.

During the panel’s meeting Thursday, supporters of the proposed ballot measure said savings associated with fewer mass shootings should also be taken into consideration.

Beth Dumond, a Tallahassee-based volunteer with Moms Demand Action, said taking away assault weapons from the equation in mass shootings could save taxpayers money because of reduced medical costs, police response and demand for mental health services.

“The medical expenses associated with (assault weapons) are higher, there is just no getting around it,” Dumond said. “You are able to kill more people and you are able to injure more people.”

Dumond cited the work of Ted Miller, a health economist with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. Miller has studied the costs of firearms injuries for more than two decades, according to the university’s website.

In 2016, Miller told PBS he estimated the costs of the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub to be about $385 million, when considering the costs of victims’ medical care, police response and the dollar value of the lives lost.

Baker said the panel of state economists was made aware of the data set and tried to get a study with Florida-specific information. She said the panel was told there was no state-specific data at the time.

The panel said it was also “indeterminate” to know the cost of the proposed constitutional amendment to law enforcement, corrections and courts. While costs associated with court cases could decline because of fewer assault weapons, the measure also would create a third-degree felony charge for people who violate the ban.

“We don’t know how that would net against each other, so we don’t even have a direction on that one,” Baker said.

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