The Wisconsin Department of Revenue is ramping up sales tax collection operations at statewide gun shows. Is the dragnet aimed at gun owners, or does it include flea markets, coin shows, and other “temporary events?”
Recently, a letter from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) to gun show organizers around the state has left some wondering if the state is running a backdoor gun control operation designed to crush lawful firearms events. They fear the move could unleash swarms of undercover agents to surveil and harass gun show attendees — creating an atmosphere that is neither fun nor inviting.
The letter, titled “TEMPORARY EVENT INFORMATION REQUEST,” begins by reminding organizers that “Operators of temporary events in the State of Wisconsin are required to file form S-240 Wisconsin Temporary Event Report to submit information about all sellers at an event within ten days of the event close.”
The document then ominously warns show promoters, “Our records show you are an event operator of [Show Name, Location, on Date],” and that “Our revenue field agents may attend your event this year to verify registration information and collect outstanding liabilities.”
The letter threatens penalties that include a $200 fine for the first failure to submit and $500 for each subsequent offense.
That puts gun show organizers in a tough spot, they say, compelling them to “report on” the small table vendors who aren’t full-time businesses and don’t necessarily have any tax liability.
Gun show promoters told WGO that they received the letter the day of setup, leaving them with little time to consult legal counsel.
“Literally at 5 pm on Friday, my treasurer, who checks our mail, handed me a letter from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue,” said one confidential source who runs a gun show in Wisconsin. “Basically, it tells me I have to fill out a Form S-240, and it needs to be submitted within 10 days of the close of the event. And it’s information about all the sellers at the event.
“And they had everything [about us],” the source said. “And we were taken off guard by it. As an operator, we’re required to collect that information and submit it to the department as part of our reporting for the event.”
According to that show promoter, the previous organizer of the same gun show ran the event for 10 years and never saw the letter. In addition, the show in question was small, with 30-40 tables where “only about 10% were FFLs.”
“So, this is brand new to us as well. I wouldn’t say it was under the table, but it was blind-siding.”
WGO’s reporting found that while the full- and part-time FFLs selling at the event expected to complete the form, there was some pushback from small, private sellers.
“What I really dislike about this is the face value is poor, to begin with — the notification is atrocious, and to put an operator at liability as a third party required to go out and collect and report back to a governmental department is ludicrous.
“It’s my neck on the line now … it’s ridiculous. I see where they’re coming from, but it’s very heavy-handed.”
At issue for show promoters was the requirement to request each seller at the show complete a form with their name, address, seller’s permit (if applicable), Federal Tax ID number or social security number. That form gets submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Sellers anticipating less than $2,000 in gross sales per year — that exemption applies to small-time sellers who may have inherited a family gun collection and aren’t FFLs operating a firearms business — must choose from four sales tax exemption options on the form, one of which is that they are a sporadic seller and sales tax exempt.
At issue is State Statute 73.03 (38), “To require each operator of a swap meet, flea market, craft fair or similar event, as defined by rule, to report to the department the name, address, social security number and, if available, the seller’s permit number of each vendor selling merchandise at the swap meet, flea market, craft fair, or similar event that he or she operates.”
Gun show operators say it’s time for privacy protections for small, tax-exempt sellers.
The DOR is also operating under related statutes 77.51(10), 77.52(7), and 77.53(9), and its agents told WGO they weren’t targeting gun shows but ramping up enforcement of all “temporary events” statewide.
Why are gun shows suddenly receiving the form and letter?
“It’s possible that the events weren’t reporting properly,” said Sam Buxton, a revenue agent with the Department of Revenue. “The S-240 has been required for event operators for quite some time now. The revision came with letters explaining the changes to the form and the requirements for reporting temporary events in Wisconsin.
“It may be that the event operators themselves were not filing the return, and we’ve started collecting the information that was required.”
According to DOR officials, a change to form S-240 in June 2022 prompted them to resend the letter to all event organizers statewide so they were aware of the new form and their reporting responsibilities as organizers.
“The bottom line is, the whole temp event process, which has very little to do with gun shows … the whole program was revamped in the last couple of years,” said Michael Ude, section chief for temporary events at the Department of Revenue. “That was mainly due to people complaining about fairness and not enforcing the registration requirements. So, there has been a larger push on registering and getting different people there.”
Ude told WGO the reporting form’s change also allows the department to take online submissions of vendor reports from show organizers and will increase efficiency on DOR’s end. “So, yes, did this all increase the amount of letters going out? Sure.
“But they’re going out to all temporary events, whether that’s craft shows, flea markets, farmer’s markets,” he said, noting that the department is not targeting gun shows.
“They’re making the show promoter do this collection work under … threat”
“I can honestly tell you that when I took over and revamped this program, I don’t know if a single gun show had reported its activities,” Ude explained. “But they are required to. And I’m not just talking about gun shows, I don’t think any coin shows reported; a lot of shows didn’t.”
Ude said that a recent UW study of farmer’s markets found that roughly only half the vendors at the market knew about the requirement.
But smaller sellers at the gun show express concern about being required to provide their name to a government agency if they are tax-exempt.
“They’re making the show promoter do this collection work under the threat that if they don’t, there’s a $200 fine the first time, and if there are repeated fines, it goes up to $500, and then who knows where it goes from there,” said Jim Meyer, who attended a show that was recently contacted by Department of Revenue. “I could see the promoter was between a rock and a hard place; they were blind-sided at the last minute.
“And don’t think that wasn’t a calculated move by the DOR to send it at the very last minute. That’s how these government agencies operate.”
Meyer called the DOR’s sending of letters the day of the event a “bum’s rush” so that gun show promoters wouldn’t have time to notify vendors of the situation. “Some vendors would have just said they’re not doing that and skipped the show.”
Meyer, who has tabled at gun shows for years and considers himself a sporadic or occasional seller, said he’s concerned about government surveillance or entrapment operations at the show that would cause long-time sellers and attendees not to want to participate.
“I think it would deter a lot of people from coming to the gun show,” he said. “And it would deter some vendors from doing this anymore.”
Since State Statute 73.03 (38) requires event operators to report “each vendor” selling merchandise at a temporary event, some affected gun owners have begun contacting their state lawmakers asking for a gun show exemption that protects the privacy of small, tax-exempt sellers, and align the statutes with Wisconsin citizens’ right to keep and bear arms, as enumerated in Section 25 of the Wisconsin Constitution.
According to DOR officials, the ATF has not requested access to the DOR lists, but some gun owners aren’t banking on that.
They say that with the ATF’s history of persecuting gun owners and warrantless surveillance at gun shows, nothing stops the Department of Revenue from “sharing names” and “lists” with the ATF or some other malevolent agency.
The issue for gun owners is that there’s no protection from getting onto broader governmental lists. “The assumption is that the Department of Revenue will share this information in a millisecond if it’s requested by the ATF or anybody else,” Meyer said.
“That’s my real concern with this.”
Note: WGO is exploring legislation protecting the privacy of sporadic tax-exempt sellers and preventing inter-governmental sharing of its temporary event vendor lists. Click here to visit WGO’s Action Center and learn more about WGO’s Gun Show & Rummage Sale Privacy Act.