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Judge upholds Cook County firearm, ammunition taxes

Thursday, August 23, 2018
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Jordyn Reiland

A Cook County judge last week dismissed a lawsuit challenging whether the county’s taxes on firearms and ammunition violate the right to bear arms.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a tax in November 2012 called the Cook County Firearms Tax which imposed a $25 fee for each firearm purchased in Cook County.

In November 2015, the ordinance was altered to add a one-cent or five-cent tax for each round of ammunition purchased, depending on the type of firearm it would be used in.

The nonprofit organization Guns Save Life Inc. along with DPE Services Inc., owner of Maxon Shooters Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, and Cook County resident Marilyn Smolenski, also a member of Guns Save Life, filed a complaint one month later contending the taxes violated the Second and 14th Amendments as well as the Illinois Constitution.

The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment in November 2016 and the county filed a cross-motion in September 2017 also moving for summary judgment.

On Friday, Associate Judge David B. Atkins granted the county’s motion for summary judgment.

In a written opinion, Atkins said the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence showing the taxes prevent people from purchasing and possessing firearms nor did they show the taxes affect the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.

“The $25 [f]irearm [t]ax and $.01 or $.05 [a]mmunition [t]ax are proper exercises of Cook County’s [h]ome [r]ule taxing powers and do not in any meaningful way impede plaintiff’s ability to exercise their [Seco]nd Amendment right to bear arms,” Atkins wrote.

Contrasting the case to two rulings involving weapons bans — the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Friedman v. Highland Park and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2017 decision inWollschlaeger v. Governor of Florida — Atkins noted the taxes provide no instance where firearms are being taken away or restricted.

In addition to the constitutional arguments, the plaintiffs also contended the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act and the Firearm Concealed Carry Act preempt the taxes.

Both acts preempt “the regulation, licensing, possession, registration and transportation of handguns and ammunition for handguns” by municipalities if they are deemed “inconsistent,” according to state law.

Atkins wrote the legislative history of the Firearm Concealed Carry Act suggests the statute was not intended to pre-empt taxation.

“The tax is a valid exercise of Cook County’s home rule power to tax,” he wrote.

Atkins also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the taxes violated the uniformity clause of the state constitution.

He said the way that centerfire and rimfire types of ammunition — are defined and differentiated supports taxing them at different rates.

The plaintiffs are represented by Christian D. Ambler of Stone & Johnson Chtd., in addition to David H. Thompson and Peter A. Patterson of Cooper & Kirk PLLC in Washington, D.C.

Thompson said in an e-mailed statement, “we have reviewed the court’s opinion, and we are considering our appellate options.”

He declined to comment on the case further.

The defendants are represented by Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Hailey M. Golds.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in an e-mailed statement she was pleased with Atkins’ decision in upholding the county’s tax.

“The ruling by Circuit Court Judge David B. Atkins granting the County’s motion for summary judgment in the case of Guns Save Life v. Aliupholds our position that the taxes are proper exercise of the County’s Home Rule powers and do not in any meaningful way impede an individual’s ability to exercise their [Second] Amendment right to bear arms,” Preckwinkle said in the statement.

The case is Guns Save Life Inc., et al., v. Zahra Ali, et al., 15 CH 18217.




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