Cook County allocates $2 million to violence prevention

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

Cook County officials will not pursue a tax on bullets, as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle suggested in her Oct. 18 budget proposal. Instead, the county will allocate $2 million to health care and nonprofits with experience in violence prevention and community outreach.

The updated proposal, presented Oct. 31, still contains the $25 firearm tax that was in the original proposal, but the 5-cent bullet tax that caused a stir among gun rights advocates was eliminated.

“[The original tax] would reduce income in Cook County and [be] ineffective,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. “The Second Amendment is still a right.”

According to Owen Kilmer, a spokesman for Preckwinkle’s office, Preckwinkle heeded the advocates’ concerns when she updated her proposal.

“The plan before was to impose a tax on guns and ammunition without a fund,” Kilmer said. “We have worked with [12th District] Commissioner [John] Fritchey and [8th District] Commissioner [Edwin] Reyes to come up with a more aggressive proposal, and this is the result of that.”

The $25 firearm tax is expected to raise an estimated $600,000, which will be allocated toward health care costs for gunshot victims.

It costs Cook County $50,000 each time a county hospital treats a victim of gun violence, according to Fritchey.

However, Pearson remains unconvinced.

“It’s just the same thing except they took the bullet tax off,” he said. “A lawsuit should be filed against the county because you’re still taxing a right.”

The revised proposal takes a more direct approach in preventing violence, Fritchey said.

“Through the creation of this fund, we will be able to put money right at ground zero through organizations with proven track records [when it comes to] reducing gun violence,” he said. “[Those organizations] could be anything from violence prevention programs to after-school programs to keep kids off the street, or something as simple as [funding additional] crossing guards.”

The projected $2 million in funding will come from savings identified in the county budget, Fritchey said. According to an Oct. 31 press release from Preckwinkle’s office, the funding will be overseen by an advisory committee consisting of Preckwinkle, three members of the Board of Commissioners, a member of law enforcement and two representatives from community organizations who have yet to be determined.

“We’re going to be dedicating roughly $100,000 of the $2 million to combat straw purchasers, or folks who purchase guns legally and then [sell] them to those who seek [them] for criminal activity,” Kilmer said.

Some funding will also go toward enhancing enforcement efforts, such as the establishment of a gun court that would provide a “streamlined approach to handling gun cases,” according to Kilmer.

Fritchey said the court will provide a means of dealing with gun crimes more efficiently than existing courts.

“[A gun court] will uniform the manner of handling these offenses and not have them tied up with some of the other calls in the court system,” Fritchey said.

He said one of his goals for the proposal is to lessen the cost of gun crimes on taxpayers by formulating an effective violence prevention plan that would eliminate excess spending on

unnecessary procedures.

“There are a number of groups out there that have done good things and can do even more good things with these resources,” Fritchey said. “My initiative will provide them with those resources without increasing taxes for Cook County residents.”

He stressed that the updated ordinance is Cook County’s attempt to curb violence by reducing crime at its source.

“At the end of the day, this sends a message to Cook County residents that we are taking steps to deal with gun violence,” Fritchey said. “I am confident that programs targeted at reducing gun violence and providing kids with alternatives will have a demonstrative effect on reducing gun crimes.”