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Some Firearms Taxes Can Be Good!

April 12, 2022
Mike Sampson

I just filed my federal and state taxes. Most Gun Talk readers would agree we don’t like taxes and they are a necessary evil, especially when not spent wisely by government.

As my March 31 Gun Talk article “What Is The ‘New Normal’ for Gun Owners?” described, some cities are imposing fees (really a tax) on firearms and ammo. Paying a fee to own a firearm and have ammo seems like an affront to common sense and the Second Amendment.

However, some may not know, but since 1937 we’ve been making those payments, and for a good cause. A bit of history from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) explains:

In the early 1900s, when many wildlife species were dwindling in numbers or disappearing, the firearms and ammunition industry stepped forward and asked Congress to impose an excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition products to help fund wildlife conservation in the United States. 

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act (PR), became law in 1937. The revenue generated from the excise tax is apportioned to state wildlife agencies for conservation efforts, hunter’s education and shooting projects and programs.

The excise tax is set at 11% of the wholesale price for long guns and ammunition and 10% of the wholesale price for handguns. The excise tax applies basically to all commercial sales and imports whether their purpose is for shooting, hunting or personal defense. Manufacturers, producers and importers pay the tax. The excise tax also applies to archery equipment.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in the Department of the Treasury, which turns the funds over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) administers the tax.

So what is the benefit of this excise tax? Since the program’s inception, $12.5 billion has been collected from manufacturers and awarded to states through PR, making the firearms and ammunition industry America’s largest contributor to conservation and access.

NSSF also notes that USFWS then deposits the PR revenue into a special account called the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, which is administered by the USFWS. These funds are made available to states and territories the year following their collection. The distribution of the funds is set by a formula.

First, $8 million is used for Enhanced Hunter Education programs, including the construction or maintenance of public target ranges. Second, $3 million is set aside for projects that require cooperation among the states. Third, one-half of the excise tax collected on handguns is set aside for Basic Hunter Education programs.

In addition, a clause in the act’s language to prevent states from diverting license fees paid by hunters away from their intended purpose reads: “… And which shall include a prohibition against the diversion of license fees paid by hunters for any other purpose than the administration of said State fish and game department.”

The benefits of PR go beyond hunters and firearms enthusiasts. Non-hunting nature lovers equally benefit from this funding since it supports the management of wildlife areas and wetlands, as well as game and non-game wildlife.

NSSF figured total distributions from the Wildlife Restoration and the Hunter Education and safety programs amounted to $3.8 billion for fiscal year 2015 through 2019, an average of $751 million per year. No doubt the recent buying surge by new firearms owners and escalating ammo prices has helped this funding.

So could there be a problem here? As a The Truth About Guns article reported recently, there is increasing concern on several fronts. The article is republished from The Conversation. John Casellas Connors, Assistant Professor of Geography, Texas A&M University and Christopher Rea, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University, said:

“But as scholars of environmental politics, conservation, and wildlife management, we have found that the growth in conservation funding driven by exploding gun sales presents at least three critical moral and ethical issues.

“First, the original argument for using gun taxes to fund conservation was that most gun users were hunters who used lands and wildlife, and should help to support those resources. But our research shows that gun use is increasingly unrelated to hunting.”

“Second, the recent spike in gun sales is linked to violence and social unrest. Even if most gun owners never commit a crime, this means that overall, conservation is benefiting from gun-related social strife and harm,” the article continued.

“Finally, recent changes to the law allow the use of gun-related excise taxes to support activities with little or no connection to hunting, wildlife or outdoor recreation.”

The article goes on to say that although most guns sold in the U.S. will not be involved in violent crimes, Pittman-Robertson does not differentiate between firearms and ammunition used for hunting and sport shooting versus those that are used to harm people. 

“The guns and bullets involved in over 45,000 gun-related deaths in 2020 generated excise taxes used to fund wildlife conservation. This means that protecting public lands and wildlife is irrevocably linked to social violence. It is also why some commentators worry that gun regulations could hurt conservation efforts,” the article adds. 

As a firearms owner, carrier and ammo buyer, I feel good about paying the PR excise “tax.” But I again emphasize the need to keep on top of all firearms, ammo and social-violence related issues and legislation. 

Doing so is an ongoing way to help us Stay safe, be prepared. ~ Mike

Mike Sampson
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home but has lived and worked in several states and internationally. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006 specializing in risk management, emergency management and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety and healthcare marketing.


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