Sales Tax Slice: Exemption for ‘Smart Gun’ Parts May Signal Legislation Waiting in the Chamber

One proposed solution to improve gun safety is the manufacture and sale of “smart guns.” The technology used in smart guns prevents them from firing, unless they are in the hands of the gun’s owner or a user specified by the owner.

In a possible effort to increase the manufacture of these personalized guns, Tennessee  enacted S.B. 2118, effective July 1, expanding its sales and use tax exemption for industrial machinery to include machinery used in the design and manufacture of the guns. The law may be a preview of upcoming legislation from Tennessee requiring all guns sold in the state to have smart gun technology.

Why might we deduce this?  Tennessee could be following in the same footsteps as  New Jersey and California.  Beginning in 2000, after passing the “Firearm Accident Prevention Act,” New Jersey began offering a sales tax exemption for firearm trigger locks that make a firearm inoperable by anyone other than an authorized person. Two years later, the New Jersey legislature passed A.B. 700, making it illegal for any registered gun dealer to sell any gun, except for a personalized gun, within three years after a personalized gun is available for retail purchase.  

California has not yet offered a sales tax exemption for machinery or parts used in the manufacture of smart guns, however, it did introduce a bill similar to New Jersey’s in 2013. If passed, the legislation would require owner-authorized technology in all handguns available for sale; two years after at least two owner authorized guns have been added to the roster of handguns certified in California.

Although smart gun technology may seem like a “smart idea,” the personalized weapons have faced criticism on both sides of the gun control debate. Gun rights advocates like the NRA, are opposed to government mandates requiring the use of the technology. Gun control groups, like the Violence Policy Center, have expressed concern that the new gun technology will increase gun ownership in homes, ultimately putting more families at risk.

Whether Tennessee’s expansion of its industrial machinery exemption has received criticism or is a preview of smart gun legislation to come remains unknown. Requests for comment from the bill’s sponsors were not answered.

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