The “Return Act” Guts Pittman-Robertson & Wildlife Conservation
The “Return Act” Guts Pittman-Robertson & Wildlife Conservation and will be the undoing of hunting in the US
By John Stallone
The “Return Act” bad for Wildlife Conservation and will ultimately be the demise of Hunting in the US
Georgia congressman Andrew Clyde and 51 (was 58) of his fellow lawmakers inadvertently attacked Hunting in the US and opened a Pandora’s box with a bill touting protections for 2nd amendment rights on June 22nd 2022 . This seemingly well-intentioned bill submitted by Clyde is called the “Return Act”. The basic premise behind the bill is the hope that removing the excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment (also known as Pittman Robertson) will put an end to all taxation on the 2nd amendment. His reasoning is that our rights should not be taxed and his goal is to help protect the 2nd amendment by eliminating the possibility that we won’t be taxed out of our rights. It’s hard not to want to jump on board and support this bill. We have seen absurd taxes being introduced that are already trying to tax citizens out of their abilities to purchase firearms. Much like the absurd 1000% tax law introduced by Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia and many of the other anti-gun laws surfacing in the current political climate.
First let me explain what the Pittman Robertson (PR) excise tax is to give you a better understanding of what is at stake. To do so we go back to 1919 when The Firearms and Ammunitions tax (FAET) was first introduced. The Federal Government imposed a tax on firearms and ammunition of 10-11% to help pay for war efforts. In 1937 a change was made, FAET revenues originally went into the Treasury’s general fund, but in 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (P.L. 75-415, commonly referred to as the Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act) allocated the taxes on firearms (rifles and shotguns) and ammunition to the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund. Originally the fund provided money to the states to support wildlife restoration, and hunter safety / education and public shooting ranges. Since then it has undergone numerous revisions that have expanded aid to game and fish organizations, with the most recent taking place in 2000 and several of the significant revisions occurring in 1970. The law established a reallocation of the original FAET tax but also added an excise tax on archery equipment. All of which has funded 15 billion dollars plus to at the state level to help maintain critical game species and their habitats. It is important that the consumer know that this tax is paid for by the gun, archery and ammunitions manufacturers at the rate of cost of manufacturing the product not at the retail level. Which means you will never see 11% tax on your purchase and it is built into the pricing and has been for 102 years.
Some other important facts:
- Gun and ammo manufacturers have been in support of this tax since 1937
- The majority of all manufacturers understand the importance of this allocation and it being tied to the shooting sports in fact many of them view it as an investment. The NSSF, which is the industry’s number one trade association, proudly boasts how manufacturers are proud to pay into PR and view it as an investment. They know that Pitman Robertson protects Hunting and the shooting sports. PR funds work on a fund matching base. Many states do not have laws that protect funding from license and tag sales from being used by the state for other projects. The way PR works, in order to help ensure states use the money for wildlife conservation, habitat , shooting facilities, hunter Ed and R3 programs, each state will receive (roughly) $3 for every $1 they generate for these programs. This is an incentive for state fish and game agencies to keep and use as much of their license sales and even create other revenue streams IE: raffles and auctions etc. to receive more funding from PR. If this mechanism is lost, it is very likely that much of the funding brought in by license and tag sales would be pillaged by the state for projects unrelated to wildlife conservation. No need to mention what that would do to our wildlife and hunting opportunity.
- PR is The fertilizer that cultivates 2A: What the supporters of this bill fail to recognize is that PR funds are a main driver for the cultivation of shooting sports. A portion of PR funds are ear marked for public shooting facilities, and youth programs. This is one of the main vectors for bringing new gun owners into the community. PR funding is directly tied to the hunting community and hunting conservation, the manufacturers of firearms and ammunition recognize and support it because they know that hunting provides an avenue to exercise the right to owning a firearm. Without these avenues those guns become pieces of furniture in one’s home. What good is a gun in my safe that I can’t go use anywhere?
- There are multiple case studies that show how PR funds bring a tremendous return on their investment for the firearms manufacturers ex: The public shooting range located within Oklahoma’s Lexington Wildlife Management Area offers thousands of visitors opportunities to enjoy target shooting. Total estimated spending by target shooters on excise tax-related items is an estimated $1.7 million annually. With annual excise tax investments for range improvements averaging $307,000, industry is receiving a 358 percent return. Many other examples can be seen here.
Let’s look at this bill specifically. As I mentioned it is a well-intentioned attempt to protect 2A but it has critical flaws:
- Out of the frying pan and into the fire– The only industry more polarizing than the firearms industry is the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry is always under fire and depending on who is at the helm is in jeopardy of being stifled. Rep. Clyde will argue that oil and gas are not going away and that even if we were forced to go green petroleum is still needed for plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc. This is true but it is also a finite resource and eventually (maybe not in our lifetime) it will “dry up”. Much like our forefathers we are not fighting for wildlife conservation and the hunting heritage for ourselves, we are doing it for our grandchildren and their children. I don’t have a crystal ball but I would bet my life that guns will still be around when the wells dry up. But even more concerning for me is that owning a firearm is a constitutional right and using petroleum is not. Thus by default making guns more suitable and sustainable then oil and gas which is not a right and could be taken away at any time .
- Removes protection for 2A – PR adds a layer of protection for gun and ammo manufacturers. They acknowledge that should PR funds be reallocated voters would be less sympathetic to support pro 2A legislation. Being tied to wildlife conservation is a badge of honor that cannot be tarnished by anti-2A supporters and that losing that badge could mean losing face.
- Diminishes the funding for PR- Although the Return Act boasts an 800 million dollar allocation from oil and gas which is more than the 10 year average generated by the firearms industry, you have to read the fine print. It’s not a guaranteed $800 million it is up to $800 million. Furthermore, the last two years which some say is an anomaly the shooting sports generated nearly 1 billion in 2020 and 1.5 billion in 2021. I believe that there is an ebb and flow in the industry and we may see dips but I imagine it will continue to grow as it has for the last 100+ years. More importantly the way it was presented to me is this: (using arbitrary information for examples sake) Let say you have 4 entities already receiving allocations from this coffer A,B,C,&D each promised a set amount based on total funds coming in. Now you add PR entity “E”. Entity “E” is the low man on the totem pole because A,B,C,D will all get paid out before E so the potential for having less funding is far greater.
- Created a divide: The supporters of this bill have inadvertently driven a wedge between shooters and sportsmen. Sportsman and Hunters have long had a mutual respect for one another and often support each other’s view point. Yes it is true that not all shooters hunt, but all hunters shoot. According to “American gun facts” 81 million Americans own guns, there are 16-17 million hunters in the US alone so roughly 20% of gun owners are hunters. In order to make an example of anti-gun policy, supporters of this bill are willing to punish 20% of their constituency. What happens when hunters can’t hunt anymore and don’t have a need for their firearms or more ammo?
- Shrinks the sportsman seat at the table- perhaps the most egregious of them all is the fact that removing PR from the hands of the users shrinks our voice. One of the most relatable arguments we have as stakeholders in wildlife management and hunting legislation is the funding we bring to the conservation table. To those not close to the wars that are waged on wildlife management issues this may seem insignificant and easy to dismiss. However, it has been very hard for special interest groups and anti-hunting groups to out voice the sportsmen because we have been protected by the shield of conservation funding. Although PR funds are just a portion of the funding provided by hunters, it is still a very substantial component to wildlife management funding and without question fortifies our right to have a say in what happens in wildlife management. It is a double edged sword. Even if PR only makes up 10% (arbitrary number) we don’t only lose 10% pf our voice, we lose 10% and they gain 10% so it is a 20% swing.
Cutting off their noses to spite their face!
- Many Republicans have supported this bill touting their 2A membership cards and rallying the “troops” not realizing that pushing this bill forward would be detrimental to the gun industry. Stop the tyranny “I intend to stop the Left’s tyranny in its tracks by eliminating the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) The Pittman Robertson act was initiated by sportsmen and women and more importantly the gun and ammo manufacturers to ensure wildlife and the hunting heritage go on for perpetuity. It wasn’t introduced by some leftist tyrant looking to punish gun owners. By undoing the user pay model, those who support it are becoming what they claim to be fighting against. To representative Clyde’s point, his goal to prevent taxing people out of their rights is without question important. However, this bill is not the answer in fact it may have the reverse affect. If Rep. Clyde wants to protect 2a make a bill that stops an further taxation of firearms and ammunition, one that carves out PR funding.
- Blood in the water: Don’t think this bill is bad for hunting and won’t diminish our voice? The very same groups that this bill boasts to oppose are the biggest benefactors. Anti-hunting groups have recognized the opportunity to jump on board with this bill knowing the damage it would do to the hunter. What happens when you have 2A advocates and anti-hunting groups fighting for the same thing? You guessed it! The demise of hunting as we know it. When “Wildlife for All” and “The New York Times”, support a bill, or at least the general content you can be assured it hurts hunting. Make note that the NSSF, NRA, and every major NGO in hunting are opposed to this bill because they understand that this bill is bad news for both sides and the only people who profit are the opposition.
- The price won’t change: After speaking with two manufacturers of ammunitions and firearms both indicated that pricing to the consumer would likely not be affected. When you purchase a firearm for a $100 at the gun store you do not pay an additional 11% tax, plus sales tax . The excise tax was paid for by the manufacture. Yes the cost was passed along to you the consumer because it was built into the cost of the gun. But US gun owners have been paying this additional cost since 1919 (even before the PR allocation in 1937) it is not a tax we see or even perceive. Based on my interview with the two different manufacturers if the tax goes away the cost of guns and ammo mostly like won’t come down 11% you are still going to be paying the same price you have always paid. So who wins here? Guess who loses? Wildlife, hunters and every gun owner in America.
In one of his interviews Rep Clyde stated that he never imagined this bill would get so much push back from the hunting community, typically this is what happens when you don’t have discussions with the stake holders. I for one am very open to having a discussion with Rep. Clyde about formulating a bill that protects PR and eliminates any other taxation from ever being imposed on the 2nd amendment. Something that all sportsmen can get behind and something that will unite us all again for perpetuity.
Many have dismissed this bill as something that doesn’t have any political traction and that “It won’t go anywhere”. I have seen other seemingly preposterous bills taking lightly and the sportsman have suffered because of it. There are 51 sponsors of this bill, do not take it lightly…… It’s is my opinion that we the hunting and fishing community, need to stomp it out so fiercely and send a message so loud “this is not an option and never to mess with wildlife or our hunting heritage”. Nothing good can come out of this bill it doesn’t teach the Tyrants they can’t mess with our rights, It will do irreparable damage to wildlife, it won’t save anyone money, it gives anti-hunters more power, it will be the demise of hunting and ultimately it will eliminate a large portion of gun owners in America which is precisely the converse of the 2A movement.