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Gun owners, dealers sue over Cook County's $25 tax on firearms

Thursday, March 14, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

A group of Chicago area gun dealers and owners filed a lawsuit Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court, aiming to halt a new $25 tax on every gun purchase in Cook County.

The special county tax doesn’t kick in until April 1, but Chuck’s Gun Shop in south suburban Riverdale — one of the better-known gun stores in the area — is among the plaintiffs asking a judge to order the county to hold its fire. The suit says the tax a violation of the right to bear arms.

“Proponents of the tax have admitted that its purpose is to curb the number of firearms in circulation. The Tax thus is intended to deter individuals from exercising their fundamental right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second and the Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and . . . the Illinois Constitution,” the lawsuit states.

The suit claims the tax infringes “on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear, and law-abiding Retailers to sell, arms as guaranteed” by state and local constitutions.

“There’s enough taxes on those already — we pay a sales tax. [And] I had to pay $100 to qualify to purchase a gun — and I think I’ve paid enough,” said South Sider Deborah Gowder, referring to what she paid for a FOID permit just to purchase a gun. She and her son are both plaintiffs in the case.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposed the gun tax as part her $2.9 billion 2013 budget package, which was approved by county commissioners late last year. The tax was projected to bring in $600,000 this year — a drop in the bucket.

 But she pushed the tax as a message about and a way to defray the costs of gun violence that county taxpayers must pick up, whether it’s because a gun case lands someone in the county’s criminal justice system or the county-financed health and hospital system. Preckwinkle also has repeatedly cited a study showing that about 30 percent of guns found at crime scenes in Chicago could be traced to suburban Cook County gun shops, where they were legally purchased.

But in Thursday’s lawsuit, gun owners and gun-shop owners state “there is no clear and reasonable relationship between” the legal purchase of guns and criminal activity.

The suit names Preckwinkle’s Director of Revenue Zahra Ali and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart as defendants for their roles in collecting and enforcing the tax, respectively.

Kristen Mack, a spokeswoman for Preckwinkle, said in an emailed statement: “When we proposed this tax in the fall, we expected it to be contentious. President Preckwinkle maintains she won’t make decisions on the basis of whether or not somebody is going to sue the county, otherwise we’d never make bold proposals.”

Mack said county officials are “confident it will withstand a legal challenge.”

A Cook County Sheriff’s spokesman said the office hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment. And Chicago attorney William N. Howard, who is representing the gun dealers and owners, didn’t return a call for comment.



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