The Illinois Supreme Court has struck down Cook County’s gun and ammo tax as unconstitutional in a decision released yesterday. In Guns Save Life v. Ali, the state’s high court ruled the tax on an unpopular fundamental right improperly violates the Illinois Constitution’s uniformity clause.
The Cook County Board implemented $25 per gun tax on firearm purchases in 2013 to make legal gun owners help pay for gun crimes committed by gang members and other violent criminals, primarily in Chicago. Later, the Cook County Board galaxy brains implemented yet another tax on a fundamental right they don’t like with in a 5 cents per round ammo tax (a penny per round for rimfire ammo).
Here in the real world, these taxes accomplished two things. First, the burdensome taxes made business more difficult for legitimate retail establishments selling firearms and ammunition in Cook County. Along the same lines, some businesses outside the county advertised that they didn’t charge the “Cook County tax” on firearm and ammo purchases in their stores, drawing Cook County residents’ business.
The second thing the tax accomplished was to spur Guns Save Life, an aggressive grass roots gun rights organization, to file suit to block the unconstitutional taxes. With the assistance of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action legal team, Guns Save Life became the organizational plaintiff in the suit.
NRA-ILA’s Special Counsel Chris Conte crafted the challenge for us. Conte’s brilliant legal mind has proved priceless working behind the scenes in countless legal actions to overturn unconstitutional gun control laws. In fact, Illinois finally joined the other 49 states with concealed carry laws thanks to a successful legal challenge Conte helped draft many years ago.
Sadly, Conte passed away recently and was unable to see the successful outcome of yet another of his lawsuits benefit America’s gun owners.
In a 6-0 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court overruled the circuit and appellate courts, declaring the special tax on a fundamental civil right unconstitutional. Specifically, the law violated the uniformity clause of the state constitution.
I was one of the individual plaintiffs in the suit and I’ve been asked about chances that Cook County will appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court. At this time, I believe that’s highly unlikely for one big reason: the US Supreme Court accepts only a tiny percentage of cases submitted to them for review. A corollary to that might be if Cook County appealed the case, the US Supreme Court ruling against them could effectively result in a national prohibition on gun and ammo surtaxes.
The Patch has the mainstream media’s take on the Guns Save Life victory.
One of the justices issued a special concurring opinion, while Chief Justice Anne Burke took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
“Under the plain language of the ordinances, the revenue generated from the firearm tax is not directed to any fund or program specifically related to curbing the cost of gun violence,” the majority found. “Additionally, nothing in the ordinance indicates that the proceeds generated from the ammunition tax must be specifically directed to initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence. Thus, we hold the tax ordinances are unconstitutional under the uniformity clause.”
The uniformity clause in Article IX of the state constitution requires that classes of taxes must be reasonable and that subjects and objects within each class be taxed uniformly.
Not only does the decision directly benefit Cook County residents and visitors buying guns and ammunition in the county, but more importantly it also benefits residents across the Land of Lincoln. It effectively scuttles legislative proposals to expand the Cook County surtax state-wide, or to impose it on purchases of police patrol-type rifles along with other popular semi-automatic firearms and the magazines that feed them.
John Boch is the Executive Director of Guns Save Life.