The Q&A law | Trying to Explain the Tax on Firearms Sales | Columns


Is it acceptable under the Illinois Constitution for an Illinois government entity to tax the sale of firearms or ammunition?

No. Well, maybe.

Another bland answer to a simple legal question.

The Illinois Supreme Court recently overturned a Cook County tax on firearms and ammunition sold by Cook County retailers for violating the Illinois Constitution.

In 2013, Cook County passed the Gun Tax Ordinance, which imposes a $ 25 tax on the purchase of a firearm from Cook County retailers. Later, the county imposed a separate ammunition tax – $ 0.05 per round for centerfire ammunition and $ 0.01 per round for rimfire ammunition.

The Illinois Supremes, in a case where a nonprofit gun rights company sued Cook County, ruled that the taxes violated the uniformity tax provision of Section IX, Sec. 2 of the Illinois constitution which says: “[I]In any law classifying the subjects or objects of non-property taxes or charges, the classes must be reasonable and the subjects and objects within each class must be taxed uniformly.

Normally, when determining whether a tax on such matters or objects is reasonable for its class, a court must consider whether the tax has a reasonable connection with the object of the legislation or with public order. Cook County argued the tax had done so – the taxes would help finance the staggering economic and social cost of gun violence in Cook County.

The county has claimed that firearms and ammunition are instruments of death and that their harmful effects cost the county immeasurable in terms of public health, safety and well-being.

Ah, but here’s the thing.

The Illinois Supremes have ruled that when a tax affects a fundamental right, that tax must not only be reasonably related to the purpose, but substantially related.

And the possession of firearms by individuals has been declared by the Supreme Court of the United States as a fundamental right under the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution. While the tax doesn’t necessarily interfere with owning a gun to defend your home, it could interfere with getting a home gun to defend your home.

So, was Cook County’s tax on the retail sale of firearms and ammunition substantially related to these aspects of public health, safety and welfare?

No, said the Illinois Supremes. Mainly because the income generated simply went into the Illinois General Revenue Fund.

The revenue generated by the gun tax was not earmarked for a fund or program specifically related to reducing the cost of gun violence. Such a move by the Supremes has clearly left the door open to passing a gun and ammunition tax as long as it is specifically intended to fund measures to combat gun violence.

By the way, “substantially related” tax is not words found in Illinois Article IX, Sec 2 language, is it?

Nope. All the stuff the court made up.

But then, the American Supremes seem to have invented the right of individuals to own firearms, whether or not they are part of a “well-regulated militia.”

What is the specifically articulated premise and purpose of “bearing arms” in the 2nd Amendment – conveniently explained by the 5-4 majority of the United States Supreme Court.

How makeup and tasteless was it?

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. Send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820.

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