Southwest Airlines  jefe Gary Kelly (courtesy

SIGCDR sent this in via email:

Southwest Airlines Chairman, President and CEO Gary Kelly [above] recently wrote an article entitled America Needs a National Airline Policy. Southwest Airlines published the piece in the February 2013 edition of Spirit Magazine. Kelly was also writing as the Chairman of Airlines for America (A4A), an industry lobbying group that decries what the UT grad calls a “punitive tax on airline tickets and aircraft fuel.” And speaking of taxes . . .

You might be surprised to learn that taxes and fees amount to about 20 percent of a typical $300 round-trip domestic ticket. That’s higher than taxes on products like alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—so-called “sin taxes” that are designed to discourage use. We’re working hard to keep flying affordable, and punitive taxes get in the way of that effort. Revising the federal tax structure on air travel is just one of the many ways that a National Airline Policy would allow airlines like Southwest and AirTran to better serve our customers.

It’s a small slip, but an important one. To clarify . . .

  1. Not even the liberal leaning Wikipedia labels federal firearms and ammunition excise taxes as a sin tax under the Sin Tax heading.
  2. Firearms and ammunition excise taxes are the backbone of conservation efforts in America at both federal and state level as a result of the Pittman–Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.
  3. Handgun excise tax is 10% all other weapons and ammunition is 11% while airplane ticket excise taxes are 7.5% and jet fuel tax is $0.218 a gallon.
  4. Firearms rights are enshrined in the Bill of Rights while whiskey, rum, tobacco, snuff and refined sugar were taxed from the first days of the republic.
  5. Prior to the 1930’s most transportation infrastructure in the US was built by turnpike, railroad, and canal for profit companies.  The airline industry is already massively subsidized by DOD investments in R&D and operational systems like GPS.  Meanwhile gun owners fund to a great extent most conservation efforts in the US and get no direct benefit in return if they are not a hunter.

Since its inception, Southwest has tried to dodge excise taxes. (They claimed an early exemption from federal taxation as long as they flew only in Texas.) You would think Southwest would be a little more sympathetic to taxed and targeted gun owners instead of treating them as errant sinners.

Maybe gun owners should inform Mr. Kelly that they won’t book flights on Southwest or AirTran until a meaningful apology is proffered.

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38 Responses to Southwest Airlines CEO on Firearms “Sin Taxes”

  1. “Left-leaning” Wikipedia? I never noticed. Can you give examples?

    Another small point: since SPIRIT appears only on SWA flights, this might not actually qualify as “publishing” an article. Maybe one can get a paid subscription, although why I cannot fathom.

    And are we really supporting EXCISE TAXES here? No one asked ME.

    • I think exploration of gun taxes is a good topic.

      What’s a strong counter-argument to proponents of prohibitive taxes on firearms, accessories, and ammunition?

      Since we already have taxes – isn’t the only place they’re eventually going to go is up? How do you argue against how high they go?

      • First comment was eaten apparently.

        The argument against a tax is that it will chill the exercise of a constitutionally protected right (see the poll tax).

        How do you know when the tax is too high (assuming any tax at all is constitutional)? Good question. You could look at its effect on the industry as a whole, its effect on the individual who wants to participate, or see if the rate of taxation has a rational relationship to the tax’s stated purpose.

  2. I don’t fly Southwest anyway because I don’t like to be herded like cattle. This just gives me one more reason to avoid them.

    • I agree. I hear folks saying how much they love Southwest. I travel a lot and they are certainly not on my most favorite list. Besides not charging for luggage, there’s not much that sets them apart from the other homogeneous airlines. I feel like I’m boarding a bus at the local Greyhound station when I fly Southwest, and their seats are board hard – they suck royally.

  3. Am I the only one who doesn’t feel much outrage here. This sounds like he heard people propose sin taxes on firearms and mentioned it by way of contrast, he isn’t advocating them.

    We have plenty of real opponents, no need creating more.

    • I’m with Brian. The taxes on weapons certainly do have all the same characteristics of other sin taxes.

      I don’t even understand why you wouldn’t like them labeled as sin taxes. If you can get people to call them sin taxes then it’s more likely they’ll be unconstitutional.

      • Publicize the “sin tax” angle, and it’d probably be a great way to get more young shooters interested in the sport. After all, nobody’s more interested in smoking and drinking than teenagers!

        • Good point. It seems the more Liberals, Progressives, and other gun haters try to demonize gun ownership, the more popular guns have become. It’s the “Bad Boy” syndrome. Parents admonish their kids from hanging out with or dating the “Bad Boy”, but for some, the prohibition it only creates more curiosity. After all, “isn’t being bad more fun than being good?” – Animal House

    • Well said, Brian. I can’t find outrage here, even trying to read between the lines. We don’t need to lower ourselves to the emotional hogwash employed by the “other side” and go looking for things to be outraged over.

  4. Agree with Brian. He didn’t create, nor does he necessarily support, the punitive tax on firearms, and even more, on such pleasantries as suppressors.

    And he has no obligation to fight against said punitive taxes on any industry except his own. As an example, how many TTAG readers have fought against the excise taxes on alcohol?

  5. The criminals are going to have to mug more people in order to pay the higher tax…Hey, just another cost of doing business, right?

  6. Misplaced outrage. His point is valid. Air travel is not in the same class as “sin tax” as cigarettes and alcohol. He’s not advocating higher taxes on firearms, he’s pointing out the hypocrisy of the situation. More people travel by air than own guns. Get your ass off your shoulders people, not everything is anti-gun.

    • +1 Dave.

      The government imposed the taxes and, as we are currently seeing, they want to tax the livin’ beJesus out of firearm/ammunition sales. The politicians say that the tax will be used to pay the governmental costs of, “gun-violence”, but we all know it is to make firearm ownership, and use, cost-prohibitive for many citizens. It is a tax on our rights.

      I have often wondered, if poll taxes are unconstitutional taxes that deny the “right” (privilege) to vote, why aren’t firearm/ammunition taxes unconstitutional if their cost could deny a citizen their Second Amendment right? Any answers?

      • You ask great questions that make most statists queasy. That’s what happens when you think logically and with reason. But I am dismayed by the lack of reasoned thinking by some of the pro-gun supporters. Too often, people are blinded by the black and white and don’t see the big picture.

  7. I feel like you’re overreacting here.

    Southwest treat me WAY better when I fly with a firearm than Delta or American, and they don’t charge me extra to check it, which many other airlines do.

    I’ll continue to give them my business.

    • Same here. Though the boarding and herding is less than pleasant, travel by Southwest with firearms has been a snap.

  8. Firearms and ammunition excise taxes are the backbone of conservation efforts in America at both federal and state level as a result of the Pittman–Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.

    I found out about this a few months ago – am I the only person who was pissed to find out that every gun owner is punished to subsidize the minority that are hunters?

    • Funny, but it ends up going for more than just hunters, and if you dont take advantage of the result of said taxes which you are free to do, whether it is camping, 4 wheeling, hiking, bird watching, etc, etc, etc, etc… then not much we can do to make you happy on this eh?

      • and if you dont take advantage of the result of said taxes which you are free to do, whether it is camping, 4 wheeling, hiking, bird watching, etc, etc, etc, etc… then not much we can do to make you happy on this eh?

        So someone who wants a gun for self defense (aka the majority of people buying guns for the past decade) need to just bend over and take in the butt so that people like you can pay less money for your hobbies? You’re a real stand up guy.

  9. Prior to the 1930′s most transportation infrastructure in the US was built by turnpike, railroad, and canal for profit companies.

    Holy Galtian revisionism Batman! They were built by private companies because the government paid them to do it.

    Sure Gary Kelly is no Herb Kelleher, and I don’t necessarily agree with his spin on all this – especially since Herb would’ve been smoking, drinking, and telling a good dirty joke during the interview.

    Regardless, anyone remotely familiar with history knows the construction of railroads (and a bunch of other critical infrastructure) was built by private contractors who never would have done any of it without the government paying every penny.

    This is as bogus as taxpayer-funded stadiums for billionaires. They didn’t build shyte – they just took the taxpayer money.

      • Yep, LUV is the NYSE trading name for Southwest.

        They’ve used that as advertising fodder for decades. Interesting history as to why they were legally required to fly out of DAL instead of DFW…

  10. Herb is great. He was having a photo shoot once, and was kinda dressed like a gangster. I told him he needed a Tommy Gun to complete the look.

    He replied, “I have one at home.”

    A real one?


    • I’ve only been fortunate enough to spend a few hours talking with him decades ago, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

  11. Oh, you want to tax our rights. Oh, I get it. How ’bout we tax the 4th? How ’bout the 1st? Oh, say $500 for every stupid thing you say? Sounds good to me.

  12. I’m confused about the purpose of this article. We want to pay taxes on airlines? Those taxes on guns are “sin taxes” the government thinks we’re sinning. They might tell you it’s for conservation efforts but it’s to make it to expensive to own a gun.

  13. You do know that “Sin Tax” is the description of taxes intended to change behavior..

    He’s using the term correctly as far as anyone not knowing that Sportsmen lobbied to add the Pittman-Robertson could be expected to…

    It’s NOT a pejorative term.

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