Chicago-area gun, ammo taxes reinstated after state Supreme Court struck them down

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The board of commissioners in Cook County, which encompasses the city of Chicago, have reimplemented a tax on firearms and ammunition after the Illinois Supreme Court struck it as unconstitutional last month

On Thursday, commissioners voted in favor of an amendment to an earlier ordinance pertaining to how guns and ammo are taxed in order to come into compliance with the Oct. 21 state high court decision.

The court struck down the tax because it ruled that it impinged on residents’ Second Amendment rights. But state Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis noted in the ruling that it is the opinion of the court any tax on a fundamental constitutional right should “establish that the tax classification is substantially related to the object of the legislation.”

As such, the new provision passed by the board directs that revenue collected from the guns and ammo tax go to a new “Special Purpose Equity Fund to fund gun violence prevention programs.” Also, revenue will be directed to “operations and programs aimed at reducing gun violence.”

Before, revenues collected from the tax went to a “Public Safety Fund to fund operations related to public safety.”

Under the newly passed measure, gun buyers must pay an additional $25 tax for each firearm, while centerfire ammo is taxed at a nickel per cartridge and rimfire ammunition is taxed at a penny per cartridge.

Initially, the county board voted to tax guns in 2012 and passed an amendment to that provision in 2015 to also tax ammunition.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she thinks that the slight changes made to the new ordinance will line up with the state Supreme Court’s ruling, adding that the sustained gun violence stats in Chicago make the tax necessary.

“The cost of a bullet should reflect, even if just a little bit, the cost of the violence that ultimately is not possible without the bullet,” Preckwinkle said in explaining her support for the new ordinance, which passed on a vote of 12-2.

“Previously, the $1.6 million annual revenue from the guns and ammunition tax was used for the county’s public safety fund, which includes the criminal justice system,” the Tribune reported.

But the board’s two Republican commissioners, Sean Morrison and Peter Silvestri, told the paper they believe the changes are still unconstitutional.

Before the vote, Morrison read another opinion from Illinois Supreme Court Justice Michael Burke, who wrote, “The majority’s analysis wrongly leaves the door open for a municipality to enact a future tax on firearms or ammunition that is more narrowly tailored to the purpose of ameliorating the cost of gun violence.”

Burke added: “The only problem with that approach is that it would still violate the Illinois Constitution.”

Morrison said he thinks the changes are still “glaringly in violation” of the Constitution and the state Supreme Court’s intent in its original ruling striking down the first ordinance. He also said he was concerned that the commission passed its new measure before the high court’s ruling has been finalized.

“Clearly, what we’re stating here is that we’re going to try and play ‘beat the clock’ on getting around a state Constitution,” Morrison noted. “Why we’re rushing this through given the fact that our state Supreme Court ruled against it is to me, just, I don’t understand it.”

One commissioner, Democrat Larry Suffredin, a major gun control advocate, pushed back.

“Commissioner Morrison tries to literally read a Supreme Court decision without understanding the interaction of the Constitution,” Suffredin said. “We are well within the time frame that is allowed under the law. We are acting in good faith here.”

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