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Editorial: County tax on guns, ammo a reasonable idea

Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin likes to call Ogden and Damen the center of Chicago’s Bermuda Triangle of violence.

Someone standing at the intersection can see Stroger Hospital to the east, where many gunshot victims are treated; the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center to the south, where many shooters are incarcerated, and the Cook County medical examiner’s office to the west, where many shooting victims lie dead.

That intersection would be a good spot to reflect on the huge cost of Chicago’s gun violence and why Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposal for a tax on guns and ammunition is more than reasonable.

Trying to close a $115 million gap in the 2013 budget she will present next week, Preckwinkle has said she favors a tax on guns and ammunition that would help offset the huge cost to the county of gun violence.

“Cook County suffers from systemic gun violence,” Preckwinkle said at a press briefing Tuesday. “The wide availability of ammunition exacerbates the problem.”

The county estimates the cost to treat an uninsured gunshot victim at Stroger Hospital at $52,000. The total cost of each gun homicide nationwide is $400,000, when you add in police work, court proceedings and other costs, according to Elliot N. Fineman of the National Gun Victims Action Council. Chicago’s homicide rate is up 25 percent this year over last. So it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable to us to ask purchasers of guns and ammunition to help defray the cost.

There are no gun shops in Chicago, but Preckwinkle said there are about 40 in the suburbs and several other stores that sell ammunition. A report by Chicago Police and the University of Chicago found nearly a third of guns found on Chicago streets, including at crime scenes, were sold at suburban gun shops.

A tax on guns and ammo won’t come close to covering the cost of gun violence or closing the county’s budget gap. And the levy shouldn’t be so high that it drives legitimate businesses out of the county.

But even a modest tax would be a reminder of the need to reduce the number of guns and the amount of ammunition on the streets.

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