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Republican Congress members put forward bill to repeal firearm tax — a major source of conservation funds

July 5, 2022 Updated Wed., July 6, 2022 at 1:42 p.m.

Firearms and ammunition, like these, are taxed to fund wildlife conservation. A new bill would eliminate that tax. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/TNS)  (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/TNS)
Firearms and ammunition, like these, are taxed to fund wildlife conservation. A new bill would eliminate that tax. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/TNS) (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/TNS)
By Nicole Blanchard Idaho Statesman

Dozens of Republican representatives are backing a bill that seeks to eliminate a federal tax on firearms and ammunition – which has served as a major source of funding to state wildlife management agencies for 85 years.

The legislation, proposed by Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., last month, is called the RETURN (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) our Constitutional Rights Act of 2022, and would eliminate the 11% federal tax on hunting firearms, ammunition and bows and arrows that is part of the Pittman-Robertson Act. It would also eliminate a 10% tax on handguns.

The Pittman-Robertson Act was established in 1937, and tax funds collected from hunters go to a wildlife restoration fund, where they are allocated to state wildlife departments such as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Similar legislation, the Dingell-Johnson Act, collects taxes on fishing equipment to be used by wildlife agencies.

The funds can be used for hunter education and safety, administration and conservation, including habitat restoration and species management.

The bill would replace the firearm and archery tax revenue with funds from the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Mineral Leasing Act, which generate revenue from leases for offshore oil and gas drilling and coal, oil, natural gas, and other mineral uses on federal land. Currently, that revenue goes to the general fund.

The bill would designate $800 million or less annually to the wildlife conservation account. Pittman-Robertson annual allocations have exceeded that amount twice – in fiscal years 2015 ($808.4 million) and 2022 ($1.1 billion).

The tax on hunters and anglers has been called out in recent years as an unfair burden on a population that has been dwindling for decades. But rather than do away with the firearm and archery taxes, some groups have proposed sharing the weight of conservation funding between hikers, campers, kayakers, birdwatchers and other outdoor recreators by taxing gear such as tents, backpacks, binoculars and kayaks to contribute to the wildlife restoration fund.

Clyde’s legislation makes no mention of alternative recreation funding, and a news release about the bill focuses instead on what Clyde calls “treacherous threats that seek to weaponize taxation in order to price this constitutional right out of the reach of average Americans.”

“I firmly believe that no American should be taxed on their enumerated rights, which is why I intend to stop the Left’s tyranny in its tracks by eliminating the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition,” Clyde said.

The legislation has been sent to the House Ways and Means and Natural Resources committees. U.S. Rep Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, who is a Natural Resources committee member, has earned backlash from a prominent Idaho sportsmen’s group over his endorsement of the legislation.

This is a direct assault on wildlife conservation and hunters. Congressman Fulcher and the other 57 co-sponsors should know better,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, in a news release. “Eighty-five years ago, hunters and gun owners self-imposed this excise tax to give back and ensure we would have robust wildlife populations to pursue.

“It was wildly popular then as it is now,” Brooks added. “I bet you can’t find a single sportsman that wants this – that wouldn’t gladly pay for the resource we cherish.”

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