Cook County, IL: Taxing a Right isn’t infringement!

Retro Style Photo Of A Police Riot Barrier In Chicago, Illinois

Of course it isn’t. It only disproportionately impacts people in lower income brackets and otherwise denies them that right. Sure, a $25 tax on a firearm only shifts the price about 3-5%, oh and then another 6.25% Sales tax of course. And the ammunition cost is only increased 10-25% on top of the 6.25% sales tax so what could possibly be prohibitive about that? 10-25% cost increases never exclude anybody, that’s just science. They’ve never caused a single bad thing to happen ever, ask anyone who had their rent or mortgage jacked by 10-25%. Easy day. [/sarc]

Panel: Ammunition, gun taxes not ‘prohibitive’

An appeals court has upheld Cook County taxes on firearms and ammunition.

The 1st District Appellate Court has ruled a $25 fee for gun purchases and 5 and 1-cent surcharges on ammo do not violate the federal or state constitution.

Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall authored a 25-page opinion, noting that even the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that affirmed individuals’ right to bear arms made clear the right “is not unlimited” and “conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” are still fair game.

So Cook County wants to keep their extra money… I. Am. Shocked.

She wrote that the taxes, enacted in 2012 and 2015, don’t really infringe upon gun-ownership, which is the core protected conduct of the Second Amendment.

“Nor are the taxes at issue prohibitive or exclusionary; we find it difficult to say that the taxes, $25 and $.05 per round respectively, are anything more than a ‘marginal, incremental or even appreciable restraint’ on one’s Second Amendment rights,” Hall wrote.

No? I’m sure nobody in Cook County has ever been at a point where $50-75 made or broke the bank for them that pay period or the next. I’m sure they love paying that much extra over sales tax. It doesn’t discourage them at all from seeking out instruction to better exercise their right safely when the cost for a class jumps 20% in ammo alone. I’m sure none of that feels appreciable.

“To be sure, while it is clear that the firearms tax and the ammunition tax increase the costs of purchasing firearms or ammunition in Cook County, a law does not substantially burden a constitutional right simply because it makes the right more expensive or difficult to exercise,” she added.

Infringe: act so as to limit or undermine (something); encroach on.

Does making it more expensive and difficult to exercise ‘limit or undermine‘ the right?

I’ll let you ponder that. Take your time.

Hall, joined by Justices Mary K. Rochford and Mathias W. Delort in the ruling Friday, also rejected claims the county taxes were unconstitutionally arbitrary and preempted by statewide laws.

The suit was filed in December 2015 by Guns Save Life, Inc., Des Plaines-based Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range, and a county resident named Marilyn Smolenski, a member of Guns Save Life who paid the 5-cent tax on an ammo purchase under protest and who claimed she would modify future firearms purchases because of the taxes.

That was a month after the Cook County Board enacted the ammunition taxes, $0.05 per round of centerfire ammo and $0.01 per round of rimfire ammo. The $25 fee on all retail gun purchases was enacted in late 2012.

Plaintiffs argued those taxes impermissibly burdened their Second Amendment rights as well as their rights under Article 1, Section 22 of the Illinois Constitution, which is similar to the Second Amendment but states the right to bear arms is “subject only to the police power.”

They also claimed violations of Article 9, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution, the Uniformity Clause, which states tax classifications should be “reasonable” and subjects and objects taxed “uniformly,” and that the statewide Concealed Carry Act and Firearm Owners’ Identification (FOID) Act preempted local regulations on guns and ammo.

Cook County Associate Judge David B. Atkins partially granted a motion to dismiss filed by county officials, ruling Maxon and Smolenski only had standing to challenge the ammo tax, not the firearms tax, though, he also ruled Guns Save Life had standing to challenge both.

He then granted summary judgment for the county in August 2018, ruling the taxes did not meaningfully impair the right to bear arms, and even if they did, they were substantially related to a government interest because some of the tax funds go toward public safety. Atkins also ruled plaintiffs didn’t show the taxes violated uniformity, and that they were outside preemption because they were a proper exercise of county taxing power.

Ah, so if it funds “public safety” it’s all good. Infringe away through financial means as long as a few pennies end up with the Police, EMS, or Fire Department.

“Turning to the ordinances at issue here, while they involve firearms and ammunition, it is clear that the challenged taxes on the purchases of firearms and certain types of ammunition within the [c]ounty do not restrict the ownership of firearms or ammunition,” Hall wrote.

How not? It’s an extra cost above and beyond the costs of material, manufacture, and time put into making the firearm available. That cost is then tacked on just because it is a firearm or ammunition.

“It is the right of ownership of firearms and correspondingly, ammunition, that is at the core of the Second Amendment, which, as noted by Heller, is not itself unlimited. The taxes could reasonably be considered a condition on the commercial sale of arms,” she added.

At the end of the day, the panel wrote, the gun surcharges are akin to sales taxes, which are levied on all kinds of goods and services.

But these aren’t levied on “all kinds of goods and services,” these are specifically added to firearms, whose access is explicitly constitutionally protected unlike most goods and services.

“Plaintiffs, and any other purchasers of firearms and ammunition, are already subject to sales tax on the purchases. Plaintiffs do not argue that such sales tax on the purchase of firearms and ammunition violates their right to keep and bear arms,” Hall wrote.

Because everyone pays those on a broad selection of goods and services. This tax is in addition to that general evenly applied tax and specifically targets arms and ammunition, which again are constitutionally protected.

I expect another appeal and this may end up going all the way federal court, even the SCOTUS, because of the issue at hand. In the meantime gun controllers are going to gun control, and use any method they can find to justify doing so.

Keith Finch
Keith is the former Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. He got told there was a mountain of other things that needed doing, so he does those now and writes here when he can. A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. Teaching since 2009, he covers local concealed carry courses, intermediate and advanced rifle courses, handgun, red dot handgun, bullpups, AKs, and home defense courses for civilians, military client requests, and law enforcement client requests.