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Chicago’s Not-So-Brilliant Bullet Tax


Autumn is the worst season in Chicago, and I mean that only partly because it’s the season where it finally dawns on us residents that summer won’t last forever, and in a few short weeks we’ll be shoveling our body weight in snow and cursing ourselves for not developing a more sustainable alcohol tolerance when we had the chance.

It’s also the season where Chicago’s city and county authorities realize they won’t be able to afford their multi-million-dollar spending plans for the upcoming year and panic-tax everything that had the audacity to move into their target zones in the previous seven months.

This year, Netflix and other streaming entertainment services were the unfortunate lottery winners, as were hotels, people who use ride-sharing services, and anyone who produces garbage they want the city to pick up, rather than turn into a mid-winter shelter for entire rodent civilizations (although, in fairness, the rodents would probably eventually provide city services more efficiently than the city itself).

As if on cue, in October, both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle produced huge budgets, and held onto “reform” proposals that might cut spending for only the requisite 30 seconds before dropping these ideas out of compassion for the poor people who might spend precious time they could be producing taxable income blindly hoping for fiscal responsibility. After all, if they get their way, together they’ll place an additional $1 billion burden on Chicago and Cook County taxpayers for next year alone.

Since Nobody Owns Guns, This Will Make So Much Money

It’s not all punishment for merely making money. Some of the tax proposals are also punishments for exercising constitutional rights. Along with the 1 percent hotel tax, the county is proposing a $0.05 per bullet tax on “powerful ammunition” (mostly 9mm shells—smaller ammunition will only cost you an additional $0.01 per bullet), designed to, apparently, punish those who commit the city’s countless acts of gun violence by charging them several cents more. Appropriately, the tax is known as the “violence tax,” and its supporters believe, somehow, that the slight increase in cost will end the city’s gun problem.

Some of the tax proposals are also punishments for exercising constitutional rights.

There’s only one problem: technically, with a few exceptions, you can’t legally own a gun in the city of Chicago. We have the strictest gun laws in the country, and while you can apply for concealed carry, they city’s mountain of paperwork and endless public shaming are effective deterrents.

The vast majority of gun-related incidents in the city are committed by people who didn’t come by their firearms (or, likely, their ammunition) legally. But, it seems, the City Council still thinks they buy their bullets at the corner store. Of course, if they did, it’s not likely the council also thinks the slight cost increase would be much of a deterrent.

While they claim paying more for bullets will keep guns off the street, the council has argued, quite stridently and nonsensically (two characteristics that run like a common thread through most of their actions), that the more costly per-night hotel tax will have no effect on travelers and conventions looking to venture into the Windy City.

Nice Job with the Logic, Chicago

They are less likely to detect a relationship between supply, cost, and demand than they are to locate a Chicago resident who actually eats deep-dish pizza on the regular. Chicago residents who can buy guns legally will simply skip county—or state—lines to escape the tax, the way they do with the other things Chicago punishes you for buying, like cigarettes, gasoline, sugary snacks, bottled water, liquor, parking, food, cable television, soft drinks, hotels, car leases, cell phones, and tires (to name a few).

Apparently gang-bangers will curb their ammunition use by engaging in the kind of fiscal responsibility we should expect from our civic leaders.

Instead, the city seems content to assume that gang-bangers will curb their ammunition use by engaging in the kind of fiscal responsibility we should expect from our civic leaders. No doubt they are all improving their aim right now to preserve that extra nickel or two in the next drive-by shooting.

After all, we already know the real-world impact of this kind of legislation is miniscule if not contrary to the stated purpose: just a few short years ago, Chicago enacted another “violence tax,” that time a $25 surcharge on firearms purchased in Cook County. In response, Chicago redoubled its efforts to become the murder capital of the United States, clocking a record 434 gun deaths. We are currently ahead of that record, while Cook County claims more cash from law-abiding gun owners, mostly in the Chicago suburbs.

So if the tax is unlikely to reduce crime and unlikely to raise revenue, what is it good for? It keeps our politicians occupied, like zoo animals at feeding time, and it allows Chicago to serve its true purpose among the great American cities: to serve as a warning for others of what not to do.