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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Illinois Supreme Court Finds Cook County Firearm and Ammunition Taxes Unconstitutional

The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in Guns Save Life, Inc., et al. v. Ali, et al., ruling in favor of a group of plaintiffs that challenged the constitutionality of the Cook County Firearm and Firearm Ammunition Tax Ordinance. 

The County's Firearm Tax Ordinance (passed in 2012) imposed a $25 tax on the retail purchase of individual firearms in Cook County. A 2015 amendment imposed a new tax on firearm ammunition with different rates for centerfire and rimfire ammunition. The ordinances cited the need to ameliorate the high economic and social costs of gun violence within the County. While the ammunition taxes were raised with the explicit intention of directing revenue to the Public Safety Fund, the firearm taxes were not directed to any specific fund or program specifically related to curbing the cost of gun violence.

gun advocacy group, an Illinois resident, and a gun retailer (plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit against the County arguing that its ordinance violated the United States Constitution and the Illinois Constitution and were preempted by the Illinois FOID Card Act and the Concealed Carry Act.

The lower courts held that the taxes were a proper exercise of Cook County’s home-rule taxing authority and did not meaningfully impede the plaintiffs’ right to bear arms—rather, the taxes were no more than a minimal restraint on rights protected by the United States and Illinois Constitutions. The appellate court further held that the ordinances were not preempted by the FOID Card Act or Concealed Carry Act, as these two statutes only preempt local authorities from regulating guns, not taxing them.

On appeal, however, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed with plaintiffs and held that the ordinances violated the Illinois Constitution—specifically, the taxes violated the uniformity clause, which provides that classes for non-property taxes must be reasonable and that “objects within each class shall be taxed uniformly.” In coming to this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court created a new test: when a tax classification directly bears on a fundamental right (such as the right to bear arms), the government must show that the tax classification is substantially related to the stated purpose for the legislation. Because the taxes in this case were not sufficiently tied to the legislative purpose of reducing the costs of gun violence in Cook County, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the County failed to meet its burden to show that the taxes were substantially related to the purported purpose of the tax.

Post Authored by Erin Monforti & Dan Bolin, Ancel Glink 


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