Increase in pistol tax could pay for uninsured Legislation eyed for swift approval

June 30, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Legislation that would double the excise tax on handguns and earmark the proceeds for a fund to help pay for the treatment of uninsured gunshot victims may reach the House floor months earlier than expected.

A House Ways and Means panel yesterday considered attaching the measure, sponsored by Rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill., to a miscellaneous tax bill that could be put to a House vote within a couple of weeks. The action puts the bill on a fast track for approval by circumventing the usual committee hearings that can delay legislation.

The proposal would boost the 10 percent tax on handguns and the 11 percent tax on other firearms to 20 percent.

The new revenue would be funneled into the Hospital Gunshot Cost Relief Trust Fund, which could raise nearly $350 million over five years, according to a Joint Tax Committee estimate. Now, all of the money from gun taxes is dedicated to state wildlife programs.

Kathleen Yosko, president of Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago, said her facility just opened a spinal-cord unit primarily because of the city's increase in gun violence.

Health-care officials estimated that the lifetime costs of treating a person with a serious spinal cord injury ranges from $3 million to $5 million and that U.S. taxpayers pay about $4 billion a year to treat uninsured gunshot victims.

"This is not just an inner-city, gang-related problem. It's really a public-health issue," Ms. Yosko said.

"Without some relief for hospitals that struggle to remain a part of the system, we will in short order face a wholesale shutdown of the nation's trauma-care system," Mr. Reynolds said.

The freshman lawmaker has high hopes for passage of the legislation. "This would be a major coup for us to get this through."

Richard Gardiner, legislative counsel for the National Rifle Association, which opposes the bill, charged that it would increase illegal sales of firearms.

"Anything intended to restrict law-abiding citizens from acquiring and using firearms may well increase the morbidity and mortality of the law-abiding at the hands of the criminal by reducing firearm use for protection," said Mr. Gardiner, adding that the public would be better served by tougher laws and penalties.

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