October 29, 2021

The Illinois Supreme Court issued a 6-0 decision this week holding that two Cook County ordinances that impose a tax on the retail purchase of firearms and ammunition violate the Illinois State Constitution. This case arises from a 2012 ordinance enacted by the Cook County Board of Commissioners that imposed a $25 tax on the retail purchase of a firearm, and a 2015 ordinance that imposed a tax on the retail purchase of ammunition at the rate of $0.05 per cartridge for centerfire ammunition and $0.01 per cartridge for rimfire ammunition.
The court noted that the ordinances “impose a burden on the exercise of a fundamental right protected by the Second Amendment. At its core, the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms for self-defense in the home.”  Although the court concluded that the taxes do not directly burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to use a firearm, it held that they do directly burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to acquire a firearm and the necessary ammunition for self-defense.

Further, the court held that the taxes must have a reasonable relationship to the object of the legislation or to public policy. The County argued that taxes were reasonable because firearms and ammunition are instruments of death and that gun violence imposes a high cost on society. The court, however, rejected this argument as “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 court also noted that nothing in the ordinances indicates that the proceeds generated from the taxes will be directed to initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.
Although the decision is favorable for Second Amendment advocates, it leaves the possibility that future legislation may be imposed, so long as the tax is “more narrowly tailored to the purpose of ameliorating gun violence.” Justice Burke wrote a concurring opinion in which he expressed his concern that the majority opinion “leaves space” for a future legislation that would allow a “future tax that would single out firearm and ammunition sales.”
Renzulli Law Firm, LLP will continue to monitor significant firearms litigation and legislation in Illinois, and around the country.  If you have any questions concerning this case or related litigation or legislation, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.