Gun, ammo tax in works for Cook County?
Updated: November 12, 2012 11:13AM
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is eyeing a violence tax on guns and ammunition sold in the city and suburbs, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Such a tax alone wouldn’t close an expected $115 million budget gap for county government in 2013, but it would funnel money into the county’s $3 billion operation — where roughly two-thirds of the budget goes for the county’s public health and criminal justice systems.
“If we were to pursue a tax on something like guns and ammo, clearly that wouldn’t be popular with the (gun lobby) and it may not generate $50 million, but ... it is consistent with our commitment to pursuing violence reduction in the city and in the county,” said Kurt Summers, Preckwinkle’s chief of staff.
Summers said the idea would be to curb the number of guns in circulation, citing a report last summer that showed nearly one-third of the guns recovered on Chicago’s streets were purchased in suburban gun shops. Other troubling statistics: Murders in Chicago up by 25 percent this year, according to recent police statistics, and the county jail filling up — with 9,000-plus inmates, nearing its 10,155 capacity.
Along with the tragic human toll, gun violence affects government treasuries.
“It impacts law enforcement, both at the city and the county (levels). It impacts the courtrooms, the public defender and state’s attorney (offices), the judges, ... the clerk of the court that has to sit there, the sheriff’s deputies that are in that courtroom and it impacts the jail — the (inmates who) are sitting there at $143 a day,” Summers said, referring to the daily cost of keeping an inmate behind bars.
“Now on top of that, if a person is shot and wounded, he ends up more than likely in a Level 1 trauma Center like Stroger Hospital,” he said, referring to the county’s main hospital.
Summers said the average cost to treat a gunshot victim, without insurance, is pegged at $52,000, adding that 70 percent of gunshot victims don’t have health insurance.
Just how much Preckwinkle would tax guns and ammunition is unclear, but the dealers who sell them would be responsible for remitting the tax monthly to the county’s revenue department.
In 2007, county Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, now a Chicago alderman, pushed for a 10-cents-a-bullet tax and even proposed charging 50 cents per bullet before the proposal was ultimately shot down.
The gun lobby has vowed to push back hard against Preckwinkle’s idea.
“This is just another example of the blame game. Chicago and Cook County have a gun violence problem, Chicago has a high high-school dropout rate, they’ve got a drug problem, they’ve got a gang problem. But they want to make legal gun owners, guys like me, the scapegoat,” Todd Vandermyde a National Rifle Association lobbyist who works in Springfield, said.
He said a gun tax not only would be unfair, it would deny many people their constitutional right to bear arms.
“It is another way to enact a Jim Crow law and keep people, especially the poor, from exercising their constitutional right,” Vandermyde said.“All you’re doing is jacking up the price of guns and ammunition for someone who can least afford it.
“The problem with something like this is that you’re hurting people who don’t have the ability to get out of Cook County. So if you have someone in (Chicago’s) Englewood community, they have to venture out to DuPage County, to Will County (to purchase a gun)? I don’t think so.”
While no such tax exists in Illinois, experts say, Tennessee has an ammunition tax. Guns and ammunition sold across the country are subject to a federal excise tax that funds conservation projects. In Illinois, the local sales tax also is applied to such purchases.
Two bills are before the Illinois Legislature that would impose an ammo tax. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) and former Rep. Will Burns, now Chicago’s 4th Ward alderman and a Preckwinkle ally, sponsored the legislation, but both bills are parked in the House Rules Committee.
Preckwinkle will announce the county’s 2013 spending plan next week. Initially, she forecast a $267 million budget deficit, but that has fallen to $115 million. The $152 million reduction comes from a combination of cost cutting and more revenue — including the hope the county can place poor and uninsured patients on Medicaid next year via an early enrollment plan under the national health reform law.
Contributing: Dave McKinney