85 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Pittman-Robertson Act, better known as the Wildlife Restoration Act. It levied a tax on firearms and ammunition and channeled the proceeds to fund conservation efforts, including habitat development and wildlife management.
It has generated more than $1 billion annually in recent years, including a record $1.5 billion last year, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These dollars are allocated across all 50 states to improve recreational activities and conserve outdoor resources.
In a press release issued in February, Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife Tommy Beaudreau said the program had been “fundamental to wildlife and habitat conservation and outdoor recreation across the country”.
It may not be long before some members of Congress – including US Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minnesota – have their way.
In June, Fischbach and more than 50 other Republican supporters introduced a bill they are calling RETURN, or “Repeat Excise Tax on Inalienable Rights Now.” Essentially, RETURN seeks to eliminate most federal taxes on things like guns, ammo, and boat fuel.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, said the tax violated a key point of the Bill of Rights.
“Certainly there is a violation when the government taxes these rights to limit people’s ability to exercise them,” Clyde said in a statement. “As attacks on Americans’ Second Amendment freedoms continue to emerge, so have treacherous threats aimed at weaponizing taxation to sell this constitutional right beyond the reach of the average American.”
Clyde acknowledges that Pittman-Robertson helps fund hunter education and conservation programs, so his proposal is to divert unallocated rental income generated by energy development on state lands into those programs.
But why mess with it at all?
The dollars generated by the Pittman-Robertson Act are so important to Americans’ right to hunt and enjoy the great outdoors that ending the Act may well undermine the enjoyment of the hunt, limit access, and inevitably reduce the number of hunters could decrease across the country.
Not only do we see this as an effort that will stifle hunters’ rights, but could ultimately reduce gun ownership.
In 2017, Lisa Irby of Ducks Unlimited wrote an article for the DU website mentioning the success of Pittman-Robertson, calling it a “hugely successful program” credited with “a long list of conservation victories.” can.
Irby wrote that without revenue from programs like Pittman-Robertson, “most states would not be able to sustain programs that maintain healthy populations of fish and wildlife. Nor would they be able to meet public demand for outdoor recreation or support hunter training and gunnery programs.”
Ducks Unlimited is not a far-left anti-gun organization trying to limit access to firearms. It’s a conservation group that understands that outdoor recreation seekers need places to exercise their inalienable rights and that sustainable resources are needed to lure them outdoors in the first place.
Fischbach, who represents Northwest Minnesota — where outdoor recreation is a priority for so many of her constituents — should know better.
Don’t kill the Pittman-Robertson Act. It was a groundbreaking program that has created a stable and stable environment for outdoor recreational athletes across the country – the vast majority of whom are likely to have no qualms about taxes on their firearms and ammunition being used to ensure these opportunities.