Cook County, Illinois Drops Proposed Ammunition Tax, Proceeding with Proposed Gun Tax

November 2, 2012

Cook County, Illinois executive Toni Preckwinkle recently proposed new taxes on firearms in Chicago, citing a need to curb gun violence. Originally, the proposal consisted of a tax of five cents per bullet tax and a tax of $25 per gun. The bullet tax has now been dropped as the tax turned out to be higher than the price of some ammunition, but the gun tax proposal is still in the works.

Preckwinkle is not the first to propose this tax: 2011 Baltimore mayoral candidate Otis Rolley had a similar proposal that we analyzed. Many of the arguments made against Rolley’s proposal hold ground with Preckwinkle’s. Criminals will probably want to buy guns and ammunition regardless of the cost. And if prices did exceed their value of bullets, why not buy bullets in another locality or buy them illegally on the black market? Similar to other excise taxes, like those on cigarettes (where a majority of cigarettes are obtained illegally, in large part to evade hefty taxes), bullet taxes would have a slew of unintended consequences.

It’s already fairly cumbersome to purchase a firearm or ammunition within Chicago city limits but Chicago police confiscated almost 4,000 guns in the first half of 2012. Of those purchased legally, many were bought in other places in Cook County. The restrictions within the city sent buyers to the suburbs, so restrictions in the suburbs would likely just send them to another county.

Preckwinkle argues that the gun excise tax is to offset the healthcare costs of caring for gun victims; she estimates that the cost per patient of gun violence is $52,000. However, her proposed tax would raise $600,000, offsetting the cost of just 11 gun victims (compared to 670 such victims in 2011). The proposal also dedicates the money for education programs, not health care. Finally, people buying guns legally already pay a hefty 10-11 percent federal tax.

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