The excise tax on guns, ammo and hunting equipment has brought in more than $15 billion for wildlife conservation
If passed, a new bill introduced by Rep. Andrew Clyde (Ga.-9th) would eliminate federal excise taxes on firearms, hunting and fishing equipment. For those who hate to pay taxes, the bill may sound great, until you learn that the revenue generated from those taxes goes to fund conservation programs aimed at preserving wildlife as well as hunting and fishing opportunities throughout the country.
Widely recognized as the most important natural resources funding source on the planet, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also called the Pittman-Robertson (P-R) Act, contributed more than $1 billion to conservation funding in 2021 alone.
Clyde stated in a press release that the 85-year-old tax "infringes on Americans' ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights and creates a dangerous opportunity for the government to weaponize taxation to price this unalienable right out of reach for most Americans - a threat that is materializing by the day."
What Clyde doesn't acknowledge is that in the early 1900s, when many of America's wildlife species populations were dwindling or disappearing, the firearms and ammunition industry asked Congress to impose an excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition products to help fund wildlife conservation.
The Pittman-Robertson Act became law in 1937 and imposes a 10 to 11% tax on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment and more. Proceeds are distributed to state wildlife agencies for conservation efforts, hunter education, shooting ranges and more. Revenues from hunting licenses and P-R dollars are the primary sources of funding for natural resources departments for many states. Individual states must match Pittman-Robertson funds with $1 for every $3 received.
Since its inception in 1937, P-R has contributed $15 billion for wildlife conservation, making the firearms and ammunition industry America's largest contributor to conservation and access. P-R revenue has helped to rebuild the population of numerous species and extend their ranges.
Due to the popularity and success of the act, in the 1950s, a similar act was written for the protection of fish species - the Aid in Sports Fish Restoration Act or so-called the Dingell-Johnson (D-J) Act.
In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the combined P-R and D-J revenues provided a record $1.5 billion in 2021 funding to support state and local outdoor recreational opportunities and wildlife and habitat conservation efforts. And because firearms and ammunition sales are currently booming, P-R revenues have been higher in recent years.
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According to Clyde's press release, his legislation would redirect unallocated lease revenue generated by onshore and offshore energy development on federal lands, which currently flows into the general fund, to continue funding programs such as hunter education and environmental care.
But as Rachelle Schrute points out in a piece for Gearjunkie.com, this suggestion leaves a lot of question marks and gray areas.
"Because leases constantly change and the revenue from them is split and rerouted in countless directions, it's hard to say for certain what amount would be left over for conservation programming," Schrute wrote.
In May, 43 hunting, gun rights and conservation groups, including some of the biggest names in our industry, signed a letter stating they opposed changes to the excise tax on sporting goods.
"The American System of Conservation Funding, thanks to the financial contributions of firearm, ammo, and archery equipment manufacturers, is widely recognized as the most successful wildlife conservation framework in the world," states the letter. "Recently, it was announced that the revenue generated and distributed by this excise tax eclipsed $15 billion over the lifetime of the program. These user-supported excise taxes, combined with millions in funding generated annually through the purchase of hunting licenses and stamps, clearly demonstrates the long-standing commitment of members of the sporting-conservation community to personally invest in science-based conservation and wildlife management."
You can see the complete language of the bill here.