Cook County considers tax on guns and ammo

The Illinois County that includes Chicago wants to help cover the costs of the city's rising gun violence by taxing ammunition.

There have been 410 murders so far this year in Chicago, a 25 percent increase over last year, and now, gun owners in Cook County may start paying for that increase.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says her budget office is considering taxing firearms and ammunition as a way to get guns off the streets of Chicago.

“Cook County suffers from systemic gun violence, and the wide availability of ammunition exacerbates the problem,” Preckwinkle told reporters Tuesday.

Preckwinkle did not say what the tax rate would be, how much revenue it would raise or if it would even happen, but just the idea of it has people at the National Rifle Association fired up.

Andrew Arulanandam is the NRA’s director of public affairs.

“What Cook County’s proposal does is it places the burden entirely on law-abiding residents in their county and totally makes self-defense a luxury item,” Arulanandam said.

Arulanandam said the tax will not stop criminals from committing gun crimes. What it will do, he says, is make guns unaffordable for low-income people who want to protect themselves.

But Preckwinkle said it’s Cook County that cannot afford the costs of the city’s rising violence.

“Gun violence is a real problem for us,” Preckwinkle said. “It’s a problem for us in our criminal justice system, and it’s a problem for us in our healthcare system, and I make no apologies for the proposal.”

The county is facing a $115 million deficit in next year’s budget, and Preckwinkle said gun violence adds to that deficit. She said the average medical bill for a shooting victim is $52,000, and about 70 percent of the shooting victims in Cook County don’t have health insurance.

The state of Tennessee has a tax on ammunition. Cook County officials said they looked at that tax as a model, and that is something Arulanandam said the NRA is concerned about -- this kind of tax spreading across the country.

Arulanandam said the NRA is actively opposing the proposal.

“We will do whatever we can. All options are on the table,” Arulanandam said. “All options” could include legislative and legal action.

But Preckwinkle had a response for “all my friends in the gun lobby.”

“You can’t make your decisions on the basis of whether or not somebody’s going to sue because then you’ll never do anything,” Preckwinkle said.

The NRA has been fighting with the City of Chicago over its gun control laws for a long time, but they will just have to wait until the County releases its budget on October 18th to see if they need to open a second front.

Quinn Ford: There have been 410 murders so far this year in Chicago. That's a 25 percent increase over last year. And today, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says her budget office is looking at taxing firearms and ammo as a way to get guns off the streets of Chicago. Preckwinkle didn't say how much the tax would be or if it would even happen for sure. But just the idea of it has people at the National Rifle Association fired up.

Andrew Arulanandam: What Cook County's proposal does is it places the burden entirely on law-abiding residents in their county and totally makes self-defense a luxury item.

That's Andrew Arulanandam from the NRA. He says the tax won't stop criminals from committing gun crimes. What it will do, he says, is make guns unaffordable for low-income people who want to protect themselves. But President Toni Preckwinkle says it's the county that can't afford the costs of the city's rising violence.

Toni Preckwinkle: Gun violence is a real problem for us. It's a problem for us in our criminal justice system, and it's a problem for us in our healthcare system, and I make no apologies for the proposal.

Preckwinkle says the city's facing a $115 million deficit this year, and gun violence adds to that deficit. She says the average medical bill for a shooting victim is $52,000, and 70 percent of the victims in Cook County don't have insurance. The state of Tennessee has a tax on ammunition, and Cook County officials say they've looked at that as a model. And that's something that Arulanandam says the NRA is concerned about -- that kind of tax spreading across the country. The NRA has been fighting with Chicago over the city's handgun ban for a long time. They'll have to wait until Preckwinkle releases her budget next week to see if they need to open a second front. In Chicago, I'm Quinn Ford for Marketplace.

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