Critics take aim at Preckwinkle bullet taxOpponents say it won't stop violence, will cost law-abiding residents
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
by Hal Dardick and John Byrne
ook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's idea of taxing guns and bullets to help balance the budget drew fire Tuesday from critics who argued it would punish law-abiding firearm owners while failing to quell violence.
The first-term board president's rollout of the bullet tax plan got off to a shaky start. Preckwinkle was light on details, saying she doesn't know what tax she would like to charge per bullet or handgun or how much revenue it would raise.
Preckwinkle also seemed unclear on state law governing the purchase of bullets. She told reporters that "ammunition sales are not regulated, which means even ammunition used in illegal gun activity can be purchased legally." In fact, an Illinois firearm owners identification card is required for ammunition purchases.
She sought to frame the potential tax increase as a response to the costs the county bears treating uninsured gunshot victims at emergency rooms and paying law enforcement and court personnel to cope with the effects of gun crime.
"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 health care system, and I make no apologies for the proposal," Preckwinkle said.
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the bullet tax would punish the wrong people.
"What's causing the violent crime in Chicago are the drug dealers, the gangs, and if you are going to put a tax on something, why don't you start taxing the gangs or the drug dealers." Pearson said. "They are just making law-abiding citizens pay for something that they didn't do. That's all this is going to do, and drive business out of Cook County, of course."
Pearson said his group would consider suing if the county adopts the tax.
County Commissioner Timothy Schneider said he's worried such a tax would do little other than hurt county businesses that sell those products. "On first blush, anything that takes Cook County out of a level playing field with other counties, I can't support," said Schneider, R-Streamwood.
And Commissioner Gregg Goslin, R-Glenview, wondered how much help an ammunition and gun tax would be in addressing the county's budget woes. "I can't think that kind of volume of purchases would raise any real revenue," Goslin said.
Still, Goslin said it's likely Preckwinkle will find a majority of commissioners to agree to the tax if she decides to introduce it.
The county faces a $115 million deficit next year, and Preckwinkle is set to introduce her budget next week. Preckwinkle offered figures that health care for a shooting victim costs $52,000 on average, and 70 percent of shooting victims have no insurance.
Democratic Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski of McCook also expressed skepticism about a bullet tax, saying he wants to see more cuts to the county's Health and Hospital System before the administration asks for new revenue. "If you pass the gun and ammo tax, you are not hurting the gangbangers on the street," he said.
Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, noted that he supported gun control initiatives as a state lawmaker, but added that he's "still not sure how taxing bullets is going to keep kids from being shot. If I can see a meaningful correlation between taxing the ammunition of law-abiding citizens and most of the people committing the violence in Chicago, then I'd be willing to consider this. But right now I haven't seen this."
Other commissioners wanted to hear specifics that so far are lacking from Preckwinkle.
"Any idea that will, one, help with the safety issue and help us pay for the tremendous cost to the county that gun violence causes, I'm very intrigued by it, but I need more details," said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston.