CHICAGO — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants to confront Chicago's gang-violence problem through a countywide tax on guns and ammunition.
While still working out the details, Preckwinkle has said she would present a tax on guns and ammo in her 2013 budget address set for Oct. 18. The county is in an estimated $115 million hole as the budget process begins.
"As the county works to balance the 2013 budget, everything is on the table, with the exception of property and sales tax increases," Preckwinkle said. "We are considering a tax on guns and ammunition, which conforms a budget initiative with my longstanding policy priority to reduce the number of guns on the street."
According to Preckwinkle's office, treating the victim of a gunshot wound costs an average of $52,000, and the county carries a heavy load to treat those wounds at Stroger Hospital because 70 percent of shooting victims have no insurance.
But others insist there's a disconnect between gun violence and legal gun use and note that Chicago doesn't even have any licensed gun shops.
"It's all part of the anti-gun movement in the City of Chicago and the County of Cook," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. "They're just trying to make law-abiding gun owners pay for something they didn't do."
Although Preckwinkle cited a report from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, prepared with the help of the Chicago Police Department, showing that 45 percent of traceable guns found on Chicago streets were purchased at suburban gun shops, Pearson counters that any guns or ammo bought legally in Illinois has to be purchased by someone with a Firearm Owner's Identification card.
"I haven't checked with gang bangers lately, but a lot of them don't even have FOID cards, my guess is," Pearson said. "It's all underground."
Pearson said Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy had both blamed the increase in homicides on gang activity.
"Proposing a violence tax on the law-abiding gun owners in Cook County is wrong," said Commissioner Timothy Schneider, a Bartlett Republican.
"My suggestion is tax the street gangs," Pearson said. "They've got the money."
Schneider and Pearson both said the tax would only succeed in driving legal gun owners across county and state lines.
"This would be a windfall for collar-county gun shops," Schneider said. He added that, in his northwest-suburban 15th District, Cabela's in Hoffman Estates would suffer from the tax.
"I think that Preckwinkle would probably get some kind of award from Indiana and Wisconsin for promoting business," Pearson said.
Pearson compared a tax on guns and ammo to a poll tax and said it would certainly face a legal challenge, from other groups, if not the ISRA.
"The Second Amendment is a right whether the Cook County Board likes it or not," he said.