CHICAGO — Cook County, Ill., this month began collecting a $25 tax on gun purchases, and at least six states are considering new taxes on firearms or ammunition as a way to help pay for the consequences of gun violence.
The Cook County tax applies to purchases in Chicago’s suburbs, but not the city. The tax is expected to raise $600,000 a year, which will help pay for indigent gunshot victims’ medical care at county-run Stroger Hospital.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a Democrat, says 30% of the hospital’s trauma patients have gunshot wounds and it costs about $52,000 for initial treatment for each. The tax won’t necessarily serve as a deterrent to gun buyers, she says, but “it’s an acknowledgment that we as a society pay a terrible price for the proliferation of guns.”
A group of gun sellers and owners sued to block the gun tax, saying it violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Circuit Court Judge David Atkins denied a temporary restraining order, saying the lawsuit didn’t show “that this right is threatened by the tax.”
Gun and ammunition purchases are subject to local sales taxes, and manufacturers pay a federal excise tax — 10% for pistols and revolvers, 11% for other guns, shells and cartridges — that funds wildlife programs.
Lawrence Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun manufacturers, distributors and retailers, says proposals for new gun taxes are “a coordinated effort by gun-control groups to try to impose a poll tax on the exercise of the Second Amendment.”
Such taxes don’t create safer communities, Keane says. “They burden and frustrate the exercise of a constitutional right,” Keane says.
Legislation introduced in Congress would add a 10% tax to handgun purchases to pay for gun buybacks and other programs. Bills creating new taxes are pending in state legislatures in New Jersey and Washington state. Elsewhere:
• California Assembly member Roger Dickinson, a Democrat, introduced a bill that would add a 5-cent tax to the sale of every bullet. A hearing is set for April 15. Much of the $50 million in estimated revenue would go to restore funding for mental health screening programs in elementary schools, he says.
Proposing a new tax is “a delicate question at any time,” he says, but the political risks are “worth paying.”
• A committee heard testimony last week on a Nevada bill that would create a $25 tax for gun sales and a 2-cent tax on each round of ammunition. Funds would benefit victims’ services and mental health programs.
• Massachusetts state Rep. David Linsky, a Democrat, proposed a 25% sales tax on ammunition and firearms, with the money going to mental health and victims’ programs, police training and firearms licensing. “We tax cigarettes, we tax alcohol, we tax other items that have a negative effect on society,” he says.
• The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that includes a fee of up to $25 for handgun licenses. Delegate Jon Cardin, a Democrat, also proposed a 50% tax on ammunition purchases to increase funding for mental health programs and to modernize permitting and licensing procedures.
“This is not taking away people’s guns,” Cardin says.