Drawing the ire of the gun lobby, Cook County Board President Preckwinkle is eyeing a violence tax on guns and ammunition sold in the city and suburbs, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Such a tax alone wouldn’t close a $115 million budget gap in 2013, but it could at least funnel money into the county’s $3 billion operation — where roughly two-thirds of the budget pays for both the county’s public health clinics and two hospitals along with the criminal justice system that includes the courts and jail.
“If we were to pursue a tax on something like guns and ammo, clearly that wouldn’t be popular with the [gun lobby] out there, and it may not generate $50 million, but … it is consistent with our commitment to pursuing violence reduction in the city and in the county,” Kurt Summers, Preckwinkle’s chief of staff, said on Monday.
The idea is to curb the number of guns in circulation, he said, citing a report issued last summer showing that nearly one-third of the guns recovered on Chicago’s streets were purchased in suburban gun shops. Other statistics are more dire: Murders in Chicago are up 25 percent this year, according to recent police statistics, and the county jail is filling up — with 9,000-plus inmates, nearing the 10,155 capacity.
Along with the tragic human toll, gun violence takes a toll on government coffers.
“It impacts law enforcement, both at the city and the county [levels]. It impacts the courtrooms, the public defender and state’s attorney that are in there, the judges that are in there, the clerk of the court that has to sit there, the sheriff’s deputies that are in that courtroom and it impacts the jail — the folks that are sitting there at $143 a day,” he said, referring to the daily cost of keeping an inmate behind bars.
“Now on top of that, if a person is shot and wounded, they end up more than likely in a Level 1 trauma Center like Stroger Hospital,” he said, of the main taxpayer-funded county hospital.
The cost to treat a gunshot victim, without insurance, is pegged at $52,000, Summers said. And 70 percent of gunshot victims don’t have health insurance, he says.
Just how much Preckwinkle would tax guns and ammunition is unclear. But consumers would be on the hook for it with guns and ammunition dealers responsible for remitting the tax monthly to the county’s Revenue Department.
Back in 2007, then Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado — now a Chicago alderman — pushed for a 10-cents-a-bullet tax, and even proposed charging 50 cents, before the proposal was ultimately shot down.
But the gun lobby has vowed to push back hard on Preckwinkle’s idea.