DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) — Gun owners have paid $11.1 million in taxes collectively all the times they have bought guns or ammunition in Cook County since 2013.
The Illinois Supreme Court has now struck down the tax as unconstitutional.READ MORE: Former Chicago Bear Dan Hampton Faces Driving While Intoxicated Charge After Recent In Northwest Indiana
As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, a Des Plaines gun shop called Maxon’s Shooter’s Supplies & Indoor Range was part of the challenge that went to the high court. It is not located too far from the Cook County line, but it is within Cook County – and thus, shoppers have had to pay an extra 5 cents on every round, or a $25 tax on every gun.
But that is changing now.
“We made the decision that we were going to stand and fight,” said Maxon Shooter’s Supplies owner Dan Eldridge, owner, “We were part of the community in Des Plaines. We didn’t want to abandon it when we thought we had a very good case.”
In 2013, Cook County leaders said they were combating gun violence with a $25 flat tax on firearms purchases, followed in 2016 with a 5-cents-per-round tax on center fire ammunition, and a one-cent-per-round tax on rimfire ammunition.
That was when Maxon Shooter’s Supplies joined a downstate gun rights group to fight the tax in court.
“You may by a case that’s 1,000 rounds – that’s $50 dollars in taxes that you’re asked to pay,” said Maxon’s Shooter’s Supplies general manager Sarah Natalie. “So we had a lot of people who chose to spend their money outside of Cook County.”
Six years later, the challenge ended up before the Illinois Supreme Court. In a 14-page, 6-0 decision, it was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds of “uniformity.”
“What uniformity means, in this case, is that anything that burdens the exercise of the fundamental right has to have a very strong connection between the subject of the tax and the object of the legislation – and they simply can’t make that case,” Eldridge said.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Slight Warm Up On The Way
The court wrote that the more than $11 million generated from the tax should have been specifically directed to initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.
A spokesperson for the County said it was directed more generally to their “Public Safety Fund.” The Cook County Board has now passed an amendment intended to fix that, designating firearm and ammunition taxes for gun violence prevention. Twelve of the 17 county commissioners voted yes and two voted no, while three were absent.
The revised tax amendment would make the tax effective again on Nov. 22.
But Eldridge said this amendment does not really change anything, and they will appeal and seek injunctive relief from enforcement and collection.
Maxon’s saw their sales explode with their “reverse the tax” sale last week – with many realizing that tax free window could still close.
“We had people who were very happy that we fought and won, and then we had people who love a sale,” Natalie said.
Meanwhile, since the tax was ruled unconstitutional, we wanted to know whether gun and ammunition buyers can get their money back. At this point, it is still not clear.
Eldridge said he imagines some groups will organize to try to recoup that money. A Cook County spokesperson on Thursday did not respond to that part of our inquiry.MORE NEWS: Police: CTA Bus Driver Stabbed In Hand After Confronting Man Who Pickpocketed Woman In Old Town
After the state Supreme Court struck down the Cook Cunty gun tax last month, Cook County Board President’s office spokesman Nick Mathiowdis released the following statement – referencing the amendment that has since passed:
“We are disappointed in the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision related to Cook County’s tax on firearms and ammunition. It is no secret that gun violence continues to be an epidemic in our region. According to recent data from the Chicago Police Department, the number of shootings in Chicago are up nearly 10% over the last year with almost 2,900 shooting incidents this year. The use of guns have had a significant impact on the County’s public safety, health and general expenditures. Addressing societal costs of gun violence in Cook County is substantial and an important governmental objective. We continue to maintain that the cost of a bullet should reflect, even if just a little bit, the cost of the violence that ultimately is not possible without the bullet.
“In light of the Court’s decision, we are addressing the uniformity concerns addressed by the Court and we are proposing this amendment to ensure that we can continue to collect the tax. The revenue generated from the amended firearm and ammunition tax will be directed to the Special Purpose Fund for Equity and Inclusion to directly fund the Justice Advisory Council’s gun violence prevention programs as well as operations and programs aimed at reducing gun violence. We believe this will assuage the Court’s concerns surrounding a Constitutional violation and expect the amendment to pass with the Board’s approval.”