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Ammo tax proposal to support Illinois trauma centers gets mixed reaction
By Anthony Brino
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinoisans, especially those downstate, may need to bite the bullet, so to speak, as lawmakers take aim on an ammunition tax.
“The bottom line is we’re talking about a penny on a bullet,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who co-sponsored the bill that would levy a 2-percent surcharge on all ammunition sales. A pack of 20 hunting rifle bullets, for example, which costs $14, would generate 28 cents in tax revenue.
House Bill 5167 is expected to yield up to $1.2 million a year. The Illinois Department of Public Health would give the revenue to trauma care centers in high-crime areas, including Chicago.
However, gun rights advocates and others attacked the bill as an affront to the constitutional rights of legal gun owners and argued whether they should be forced to pay for crimes not committed in their back yard.
“Law-abiding gun owners like hunters aren’t the problem; it’s the illegal gun owners,” said Ralph Zancha, owner of Zancha’s Guns & Ammo, in Lovington,
The House Executive Committee approved the bill earlier this week, 7-4, along party lines. The proposal is set to go before the House for a second reading, but a date has not been set.
Cassidy claimed the bill is part of the “fight against gun crime,” but Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, a gun rights advocacy group, argued it’s really an “unconstitutional poll tax,” referring the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
“The idea that you’ll tax … every gun owner because some locale has a problem with a criminal element is offensive,” Vandermyde said.
That locale is mainly Chicago, where 354 people died from firearm homicides in 2010, according to the Chicago Police Department’s most recent statistics.
Cassidy said her measure is intended to help inner-city children and other people who suffer from gun violence through no fault of their own, but said the funding wouldn’t be limited to trauma centers in Chicago.
Throughout Illinois, 1,870 people were treated at trauma centers because of gun injuries in 2007, the most recent figures available in the Illinois Department of Public Health’s trauma registry database.
Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, a gun control advocacy group, said the proposal would fill a large gap in the availability of trauma care, and perhaps help some hospitals establish trauma centers.
Daley told the story of a teen-ager who was shot in south Chicago, just blocks from the University of Chicago, which doesn’t have a trauma center. He had to be taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s trauma center, 9 miles to the north, and died along the way.
“Would he have survived if there had been trauma center closer?” she asked. There was no answer.
But state Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, objected to the tax, saying it’s not right to force gun owners across Illinois to pay for injuries associated with crimes that mostly take place in Chicago.
“I think that is an unfair tax,” Sullivan said.
For some gun owners, particularly hunters, a surcharge of 2 percent wouldn’t seem like much money. But it’s on top of an 11 percent federal tax on bullet manufacturers, Vandermyde said.
And the cost of bullets has shot up steeply during the past few years, as a result of increased global demand for the ingredients of a bullet — brass, lead and copper — particularly in China.
Zancha, the Lovington gun-shop owner, said the cost of bullets has roughly tripled in the past three years.
State Rep. Kimberly du Buclet, D-Chicago, co-sponsored the bill.
Posted March 2, 2012