By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The senior executive of the county that includes Chicago dropped a proposed tax on bullets on Wednesday but kept a plan to tax firearms to help defray healthcare expenses associated with the high rate of gun.
"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," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told a news conference. She said 29 percent of guns used in crimes in Chicago were purchased legally in suburban Cook County.
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 abandoned a proposed tax of 5 cents a bullet because the tax in some cases would have exceeded the price of ammunition.
If approved by the board, the nation's third most populous county with nearly 5.2 million residents 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.
There have been 440 murders in Chicago so far this year, surpassing last year's total of 435 and 22.2 percent more than in the same period a year ago, according to Chicago police.
Preckwinkle proposed dedicating $2 million to 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 had been treated by the county's health system last year. The average cost per patient was $52,000.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners is due to 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 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 cent tax on shotgun shells and cartridges that applies to sellers. The money is used to support wildlife resources.
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the proposal was another scheme to punish law-abiding firearm owners and dealers, and that it would prompt people to purchase weapons elsewhere.
"It's just another thing to drive the business out of state," Pearson said.
Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of Chicago's St. Sabina Church, said the tax would make a difference, just as cigarette taxes affected cigarette consumption. He called gun violence "the undeclared disaster," and said that in his South Side neighborhood a gun could 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, Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)