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Preckwinkle defends proposal to tax guns, ammo in Cook County

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle  |  Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:19AM



Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle defended her proposal to place a violence tax on guns and bullets, saying the county has to try to find ways to defray the costs the county absorbs because of gun violence — whether it’s victims in the county-run health and hospital system or suspects in the county jail awaiting trial.

“Cook County suffers from systemic gun violence,” she told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday about the so-called violence tax, which was first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. “The wide availability of ammunition exacerbates the problem.”

While the gun lobby shot down the idea of a special tax on guns and ammunition, the plan also drew some mixed reviews from county commissioners.

“It isn’t the law-abiding gun owner that’s going out in to the streets of Chicago and killing these innocent children. It’s mostly illegal gun owners. It will be the legal gun owners footing the bill for this violence tax,” said suburban Republican Timothy Schneider.

But Preckwinkle shrugged off the idea that law-abiding citizens might be the ones footing the bill .

“Gun violence is a real problem for us — it’s a problem for us in the criminal justice system, and it’s a problem for us in our healthcare system and I make no apologies for” that, she told reporters at a press briefing.

She also cited a report by Chicago Police and the University of Chicago that found nearly one-third of guns found on city streets — including those recovered at a crime scene — were sold at some of the 40 gun shops in suburban Cook County.

Schneider, however, worries such a tax will push law-abiding gun owners to shop for supplies beyond Cook County’s borders. That could hurt the mega sporting goods store Cabela’s, a favorite among hunters, in his district.

“Why the county chooses to drive business away — drive it out of Cook County — instead of creating an environment where we encourage people inside and outside to shop and do business in Cook County, I don’t know,” Schneider said.

Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a southwest side and suburban Democrat and Preckwinkle’s floor leader, said he finds the violence tax intriguing, but wants to hear more details about it. Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a North Side and suburban Democrat, also said he’d lean toward voting for such a measure, but also would like more information including how much money it would bring in.

“I would support it — there’s way too many guns and ammunition floating around,” Suffredin said. “But I think this is more symbolic than any kind of budget issue.”

Preckwinkle’s staff on Monday said it’s unlikely such a tax would generate the money needed to close a projected $115 million deficit next year in the county’s $3 billion operation.

But just how much the tax would be — or is likely to bring in?

Preckwinkle wasn’t talking details on Tuesday, saying: “My budget staff insists I’m not to give any numbers because they’re still fiddling with it.”

Her staff says, on average, it costs $52,000 to treat a gunshot victim at the county’s Stroger Hospital. And it costs $143 a day to keep an inmate at the county jail.

Commissioner Peter N. Silvestri, a Northwest Side and suburban Republican is concerned such a measure could result in a costly lawsuit. “Are we going to spend to spend more in court than we’re going to collect in taxes?” he asked.



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