After each high-profile mass shooting, firearms sales spike. And with every gun and bullet sold, more federal tax dollars flow to the states under a Depression-era law that was intended to benefit wildlife but now is increasingly used to promote the gun lobby’s agenda.
It’s time to get guns out of wildlife conservation.
Since 1937, Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act (PR) which brought together the firearms industry with state wildlife agencies. The law transferred an existing federal tax on ammunition, firearms, and ammunition to the states to aid in the recovery of depleted game populations.
At the time, taxing firearms to produce more game animals to benefit hunters under a “user pays” model made sense. It was assumed that most gun owners were hunters, and hunters were seen as the main “users” of wildlife.
The long-term gains were evident for the gun industry. Gun manufacturers were already paying a federal sales tax, but the money went into the treasury. The PR Act redirected those funds to states for wildlife purposes. It converted those taxes into an investment that would allow more hunting opportunities and ultimately lead to more gun sales.
The model worked for many years as it was intended. PR Act funds have been used by states to restore hunted species like bighorn sheep, deer, and wild turkeys.
The proliferation of guns in the U.S., however, has upended this “user pays” model. As the main source for PR Act funds, non-hunting gun buyers have surpassed hunters. An estimated 74 percentToday’s guns, which include handguns and AR-15 rifles, aren’t used for hunting in any significant number.
Hunting in the U.S.A. is a popular pastime declining for decades –– less than 5 percent of Americans reported hunting in 2016 — gun sales have skyrocketedState wildlife agencies receive a substantial amount of money as a result. A total of $1.1 billionIn fiscal year 2022 funds from the PR Act were disbursed, a tripling of the amount amount Only 10 years ago, the funds were disbursed.
Wildlife agencies have existed for many years prioritized Conservation is more important than hunting. The recent huge jump in PR Act receipts has opened the door for nonhunting gun owners to join hunters as the favored “paying” constituents of wildlife managers, pushing the agencies further away from a true conservation mission.
The one thing that the agencies, gun lobby, hunting groups and hunting organizations have in common is not necessarily the desire to protect wildlife but the goal of maximising opportunities to use firearms and hunt.
This convergence has been detrimental to wildlife. These are just a few of the issues that wildlife managers, hunting groups, and the gun industry have generally agreed on. They favor hunting and gun use over conservation.
- Opposed Despite scientific evidence, efforts to ban lead ammunition for hunting are being made consensus Lead bullet fragments can cause widespread poisoning in eagles, and other scavengers.
- Supported A major increase in hunting on national wildlife refuges
- Opposed efforts to protect wolves Other species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
- Supported wildlife murder contests.
Congress elevated the status of the gun lobby in wildlife matters in a dramatic fashion when it passed, with bipartisan support, the “Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act” in 2019. The bill added the terms “recreational shooter” and “recreational shooting” to the text of the Pittman-Robertson Act, and authorized the use of PR funds for “R3” programs (“recruit, retain and reactivate”) to persuade more people to buy guns and take up hunting and target shooting.
The gun industry and the states were investing R3 efforts have been ongoing for years. However, the bill’s passage made millions more federal dollars available to these programs. PR Act funds are now going towards the states and groups like National Shooting Sports FoundationTo encourage gun ownership, target shooting, and hunting.
Hold on. Do you think it makes sense to use public funds to encourage gun use in a time when gun violence is on the rise? Should the urgent, life-affirming task to protect wildlife be funded by the sale of violent and death-related items in the face of climate change and mass extinction?
It’s time to decouple conservation from guns entirely and find new sources of broad public funding for wildlife protection. The millions of dollars that have been raised by taxes on ammunition and firearms under the Pittman-Robertson Act must be directed to reducing gun violence in America.