Fighting Crime in Cook County by Taxing Bullets?

Criminals will never pay the tax, law-abiding citizens will rarely pay it, and the county will get little revenue.

For urban politicians, gun control is like the bar in "Cheers" -- a place of refuge they can seek out whenever things aren't going well. Things aren't going well on the crime front in Chicago, with homicides up 25 percent this year. So what else can our elected leaders do but promise action against guns?

Action against the possession and use of guns by violent felons would be a good idea, but the proposal offered by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is something else: a penalty on nonviolent citizens who bear no blame for the carnage.

Preckwinkle suggested a tax on sales of firearms and ammunition, with the goal of defraying the costs that gunshots create for the county hospital and jail. Her spokesperson couldn't say what the tax rate would be or how much revenue it would yield but said the fee would be "consistent with our commitment to pursuing violence reduction in the city and in the county."

It won the support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reiterated his commitment to "get guns and drugs off the streets" -- as though this tax would dry up the existing stockpile of guns or reduce the flow of new ones.

The levy was dubbed a "violence tax," which is exactly what it isn't. It would not target criminals who have malice in mind, but would fall entirely on the law-abiding.

Anyone convicted of a felony, after all, is ineligible for an Illinois Firearm Owner's Card, which is legally required to buy guns or bullets. Under federal law, felons are barred from owning guns. So ex-con gang members would not pay the tax, because they make all their purchases in the illegal market. It would hit only those gun owners who have used their firearms responsibly.

Preckwinkle apparently regards her measure as the equivalent of taxes on tobacco or gasoline, which attempt to recoup from smokers and motorists some of the expenses they create for the medical system (when they get emphysema or lung cancer) or the road system (when they drive). But it's a false parallel.

The great majority of gun owners never cause the county to spend money providing medical care to gunshot victims, and they never take up expensive lodging in the county jail. Their guns don't impose a cost on society any more than a softball team's bats do.

The notion of taxing ammunition may be traced to comedian Chris Rock, who once quipped, "If a bullet costs $5,000, there'd be no more innocent bystanders." Before that, the legendary New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan suggested a 10,000 percent tax on the most destructive bullets. Make them too expensive, he theorized, and they would disappear.

Oh? Marijuana and cocaine are more expensive than they would be if they were legal, yet there is plenty of supply as well as demand. Put an extravagant -- or even not so extravagant -- fee on bullets, and black-market entrepreneurs will make and sell them outside regulated channels.

Active criminals have a strong interest in arming themselves, which is why even total bans (as Chicago long applied to handguns, until the Supreme Court interfered) don't have much effect on them. When your livelihood requires a deadly weapon, you will find a way to get it.

It's not as though criminals need a daily supply of ammo, making the tax a prohibitive expense. Legend has it that gangster Al Capone said you can get more with a smile and a gun than with just a smile, but he didn't usually need to pull a trigger to induce cooperation.

Even peaceable citizens are not likely to make a habit of paying the tax, since it invites widespread evasion. Anyone who wants to buy a weapon or ammunition can travel to a neighboring county, where gun retailers are more common anyway.

A county can do well with heavy duties on beer and cigarettes because people consume them often and want easy access. But a firearm purchase is not a frequent event in the life of a gun owner. Most hunters and target shooters won't mind an occasional suburban trip to pick up a few months' supply of ammo.

In the end, criminals will never pay the tax, law-abiding citizens will rarely pay it, and the county will get little revenue. The only purpose it will serve is to let upstanding gun owners know their local government views them with disdain. The feeling, for good reason, is mutual.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Ammunition tax: Better than Kevlar!

  • Rich||

    Preckwinkle suggested a tax on sales of firearms and ammunition, with the goal of defraying the costs that gunshots create for the county hospital and jail.

    Guess I need more coffee. What costs are "created" for the jail?

    Anyway, taxing blood donations would help defray costs for the hospital.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Anyway, taxing blood donations would help defray costs for the hospital.

    Now that we know we can tax inaction, let's tax anyone who doesn't own a set of body armor. And we can have traffic stops to make sure people are wearing it.

  • gaijin||

    This is bs...the county has a $100 million dollar shortfall...this is an expedient excuse for a new tax to levy. She has also proposed a tax on the soon to be deployed video poker machines. Never let a crisis go to waste and all that.

  • Drake||

    To get to the real root of the problem, they should just tax voting. It isn't even a Constitutional right.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Bullets are a tax and therefore can be taxed by a tax. Tax.

  • Doctor Whom||

    The notion of taxing ammunition may be traced to comedian Chris Rock, who once quipped, "If a bullet costs $5,000, there'd be no more innocent bystanders."

    I once heard another comedian, whose name escapes me, say that no one who otherwise wanted to commit robbery or homicide would suddenly realize, "Wait! I can't do this; my gun and ammo have been obtained illegally."

  • Drake||

    Like most Chris Rock jokes, not even mildly amusing.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    If you COULD make a bullet cost $5,000, that might even work. But a bullet isn't ever going to cost $5,000, not even if you put a $5,000 tax on every bullet … because people will find a cheaper source.

    What the #$!@# makes people think that those who routinely break the law are going to suddenly stop, just because another one has been passed?

  • fish||

    C.S.P you should get in touch with the good people at "fish's $2500 Bullet Emporium"! Ask about our convenient payment programs!

  • ||

    This. We don't call people criminals because of their deep and profound respect for the law. We don't call people criminals because they refuse to commit crimes for any reason.

    A man who has already decided to commit a crime punishable by life in prison is not going to suddenly stop and think "Oh man, committing a crime with a gun adds ten years, I better not!"

  • BMFPitt||

    I came to note the lack of a Chris Rock reference in the article. Good to see it's been taken care of...

    Every time someone gets shot, people will be like, "Damn, he must have did something. They put $50,000 worth of bullets in his ass!"

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I wonder if anybody from the CBOT is available to come explain arbitrage to these retards.

  • ||

    Every time I read about people taxing ammunition I realize these people have never handled a firearm or know anything about ammunition. Tax it at that rate and people will become reloaders in their garages, which costs next to nothing and is stupidly easy to do.

  • Stephdumas||

    Or going to Wisconsin or Indiana to buy ammunition. I guess the black market isn't part of their vocabulary.

  • RightNut||

    A piece by Chapman I agree with! What a shock.

    Even if this tax was 100% enforceable, which it is not, people can and do make their own ammo.

  • ||

    So, mayor Rahm wants to have the jobs from selling firearms and bullets move to places just outside city limits, thus depleting tax revenues?

    That is weapons-grade foolish (pun intended).

  • Brendan||

    I can't wait for the left's howling when a pro-life politician seeks heavy taxes on abortion; services, providers, or both.

  • Sigivald||

    Baffling, yes.

    It's a shame that ammunition is so hard to transport that the same gang members in Chicago who already have a thriving black market in guns and already don't buy ammunition retail* are plainly not going to have any ammo if such a tax is passed.

    (* In Illinois you need a state FOID card to even possess ammunition, according to the State's information on the subject. Likewise you need one to buy ammunition in Illinois.

    I submit that the number of homicidal gang members in possession of a FOID is ... very low.)

  • Michael Price||

    "an occasional suburban trip to pick up a few months' supply of ammo."
    Umm... guys, internet. Who drives anywhere to buy stuff anymore?

  • UneasyRider||

    I'm not sure about Illinois, but in PA, ammo and firearms purchased online needs to be shipped to a store that can legally sell them. I'm not sure if the store then requires you to pay the tax or not.

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