By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The top executive of the county that includes Chicago on Wednesday dropped a proposed tax on bullets but kept a plan to tax firearms to help defray healthcare expenses associated with the high rate of gun violence.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle dropped a proposed tax of 5 cents a bullet because the tax in some cases would have been more than the ammunition price itself.
If approved by the board, the nation's third most populous county could be the first major U.S. metropolitan area to impose a tax as a form of gun control, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"It is very important to us to tax guns because we know that guns are the sources of the incredible violence we have in our neighborhoods," said Preckwinkle at a news conference on Wednesday. She said 29 percent of the guns used in crimes in Chicago were purchased legally in suburban Cook County.
There have been 440 murders in Chicago so far this year, surpassing the total in all of last year - 435 - and 22.2 percent more than the same period a year ago, according to Chicago Police.
Under the plan, the County would impose a $25 tax on the purchase of firearms. The tax is expected to raise $600,000 in revenue in 2013.
Preckwinkle also proposed dedicating $2 million toward a violence prevention program, which would primarily provide grants to non-profit organizations with proven experience in violence prevention or community outreach.
She noted that 670 victims of gun violence were treated by the county's health system last year, at the average cost of $52,000 per patient.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners will vote on the firearm tax proposal on Friday. Commissioner Jesus Garcia, who supports the revised plan, said he thinks it will be approved.
Taxes on buyers or sellers of guns and/or ammunition have been proposed but failed in six states, including California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Tennessee has a hunting-related, 10-cents tax on shotgun shells and cartridges which applies to sellers. The money is used to support wildlife resources.
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, was not immediately available for comment on the revised proposal. He had called the original proposal one of a string of "schemes" to punish law-abiding firearm owners and dealers.
Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of Chicago's St. Sabina Church, says the tax will make a difference, just as cigarette taxes affected cigarette consumption. He called gun violence "the undeclared disaster," and noted that in his crime-troubled South Side neighborhood a gun can be bought for as little as $20.
"We are a city with more guns than computers in many neighborhoods and that's unacceptable," Pfleger said.
(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Mohammad Zargham)