Cook County Revives Gun, Ammo Tax After Legal Smackdown

AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar

Just a couple of weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court declared that a tax on firearms and ammunition sales imposed by Cook County supervisors was null and void because it violated state law, the Democratic majority on the county’s board of supervisors voted on Thursday evening to reimpose the tax on gun owners, albeit with a couple of minor tweaks.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who proposed the legislation, said she believes the tweaks will align the ordinance with the Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion that taxes impeding a fundamental right such as the Second Amendment must be used for a “substantially related” cause.

Previously, the $1.6 million annual revenue from the guns and ammunition tax was used for the county’s public safety fund, which includes the criminal justice system.

Now the board has amended the language to state that funds raised by the $25-per gun tax (with ammo being taxed at $0.05 per round of centerfire ammuntion and a penny per round of rimfire ammo) must be used for “programs or operations geared toward gun violence prevention,” though it sounds like no specific programs were named.

Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supply in Cook County and one of the plaintiffs in the case that led to the county’s original gun and ammo tax being overturned, tells Bearing Arms that he and his fellow Second Amendment advocates expected the move, and they’re ready for another legal fight.

“We fought and won once,” Maxon said in a statement, “and we will do so again, this time with the weight of the Supreme Court’s opinion and 6-0 thrashing of the lower courts behind us.”

I think the plaintiffs are going to have a very good case, and so do the two Republican supervisors on the Cook County board.

The board’s two Republican commissioners, Sean Morrison and Peter Silvestri, opposed the amendment. Before the vote, Morrison read a separate opinion from Illinois Supreme Court Justice Michael Burke that said, “The majority’s analysis wrongly leaves the door open for a municipality to enact a future tax on firearms or ammunition that is more narrowly tailored to the purpose of ameliorating the cost of gun violence.”

Burke also wrote, “The only problem with that approach is that it would still violate the Illinois Constitution.”

Morrison said the revised amendment still is “glaringly in violation” of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He added he was concerned the board approved this change when the Illinois Supreme Court’s order has not been finalized.

That issue stems from the state Supreme Court sending the matter back to the circuit court to grant final judgment, which likely will not happen until Nov. 23, according to a Laura Lechowicz Felicione, legal counsel for Preckwinkle’s office. The unconstitutionality ruling won’t come into play until that happens, she said.

“Clearly, what we’re stating here is that we’re going to try and play ‘beat the clock’ on getting around a state constitution,” Morrison said. “Why we’re rushing this through given the fact that our state Supreme Court ruled against it is to me, just, I don’t understand it.”

Oh, I think most gun owners and Second Amendment activists understand why the Democrats on the Cook County board are moving so quickly. Their hatred of gun ownership is more important to them than governing responsibly. The board is going to incur more legal expenses and eventually suffer another stinging defeat, but in the meantime they can make life a little more difficult for legal gun owners in the county.

I’m curious to see if, given the unanimous state Supreme Court ruling striking down the original tax, a judge will issue an injunction preventing the new tax from being collected while the second round of litigation is making its way through the court system. To me it seems like an easy call, but this is Cook County we’re talking about; a place where far too many officials still view the Second Amendment as a privilege and not a right.