The Law School Authority

Sonzinsky v. United States Case Brief

Summary of Sonzinsky v. United States
S. Ct. 1937

Facts:  Max Sonzinsky a dealer in firearms was convicted for non-payment of the $200 per year tax while continuously dealing in those firearms defined by the Act.

Issue: Whether the National Firearms Act, which imposed a $200 annual fee upon the Petitioner, is penalty and thereby a regulation reserved for State?

Holding: No it is a tax properly regulated by Congress.

Procedure:  Pet. was convicted on two counts of an indictment charging violation of the National Firearms Act, The C Ct of App set aside the conviction on the second count and affirmed on the first, and petitioner/defendant brings certiorari.   Affirmed.

Rule: Every dealer in firearms to register with the Collector of Internal Revenue and pay a special excise tax of $200 a year.   Firearm is defined as a shotgun or rifle having a barrel less than 18″ or any weapon, except a pistol or revolver, discharging an explosive shot, capable of concealment, or machine gun, including muffler or silencer for a firearm.

Ct. Rationale: Every tax is in some measurement regulatory.  To some extent it interposes an economic impediment upon the activity taxed as compared with others not taxed.  A tax is no less a tax simply b/c it has a regulatory effect.  An Act of Congress establishing a tax upon something and that tax is then burdensome does not make it any less of a tax.  In this instance the $200 per year tax is a tax and as such it falls within the National Taxing Power of Congress. [A1,S8,C1]

PL A: Congress has the power to lay taxes so long as they are uniform.  This tax is uniform to all firearms as defined, and to all dealer engaging thereunder.

Def A: The annual fee operates as a penalty to enforce a regulation and that is a power reserved for the States.  The fee is distributed to a limit class of firearms, by a different non-uniform assessment of the fee.  One for dealer, one for manufacturers, one for purchasers, therefor it has a prohibitive or penalizing effect.

Oblique – vague or indirect


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