An Illinois group which advocates for the rights of gun owners has taken aim at Cook County’s taxes on the sales of firearms and ammunition, asking the courts to find the county’s taxes to be unconstitutional infringements on the Second Amendment rights of citizens in the county.
On Dec. 17, Guns Save Life Inc., a group which purports to include members in Cook County and throughout Illinois, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against the county, the head of its Department of Revenue and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, alleging the county violated the U.S. and Illinois state constitutions in enacting the special tax on guns and ammo.
Named plaintiffs in the action also include DPE Services Inc., a business that operates Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, and Marilyn Smolenski, a Cook County resident and member of Guns Save Life, who, according to the complaint, has owned numerous firearms since her ex-husband allegedly stalked her and broke into her house in 1999.
The complaint was filed one month since Cook County’s Board of Commissioners and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle enacted a tax in November on the “retail purchase of firearm ammunition.” The tax charges those buying ammo an additional 1 cent per cartridge of so-called “rimfire ammunition” and 5 cents per cartridge of “centerfire ammunition,” the kinds of ammunition used in higher caliber firearms.
The County Board projected the ammo tax would bring in about $320,000 annually, with the money said to go to public safety and health programs, according to reports published following passage of the county’s new budget in November.
The ammunition taxes came about three years since the county imposed a $25 tax on the sale of every firearm in the county.
The Guns Save Life complaint centered on U.S. legal precedent, established in the 1944 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the case of Follett vs Town of McCormick, in which justices ruled citizens “may not ‘be required to pay a tax for the exercise of … a high constitutional privilege.’”
In that case, the ruling had exempted distributors of religious materials from paying the same licensing fees and taxes as those distributing non-religious materials required by the town.
In its complaint, Guns Save Life Inc. argued Cook County should similarly be precluded from collecting special taxes on the sale of firearms and ammunition, as the tax presents an impermissible burden and hurdle to the free exercise of the rights of gun owners, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“In the latest stages of its long-running campaign against the rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, the Cook County Board of Commissioners has enacted a discriminatory tax ordinance that directly and exclusively targets the exercise of the fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” the complaint said. “The ordinance here challenged, far from having been drafted so as to respect constitutionally protected conduct, has been narrowly tailored to do nothing but target constitutionally protected conduct.
“As such, it is patently unconstitutional.”
The complaint also said the ordinance falls short under the Illinois state constitution, as well.
While the state constitution subjects gun ownership rights to the state’s police power, Guns Save Life argued the ordinance instead was enacted under the county’s taxing power, rendering it an illegal tax on that basis, as well.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, the National Rifle Association, with which Guns Save Life Inc. is affiliated, issued a statement announcing its support of the legal action against the county.
“Since its enactment in 2012, the county’s tax on firearms has done nothing to make the streets of Cook County safer,” the NRA said in its release. “Confronted with this evidence of failure, the Cook County Board of Commissioners chose to double down on its unconstitutional attack on the Second Amendment when it voted last month to impose a new tax on the sale of ammunition in Cook County.”
Guns Save Life Inc. is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Stone & Johnson, of Chicago, and Cooper & Kirk, of Washington, D.C.