July 01, 2022
In a controversial move that is being met with a firestorm of fierce criticism from various corners of the wildlife conservation world, a north Georgia congressman has proposed legislation that would essentially repeal a landmark piece of legislation that has served as the cornerstone of wildlife conservation in America for 85-years, the Pittman-Robertson Act, also known as the Wildlife Restoration Act.
What Exactly is the Pittman-Robertson Act/Wildlife Restoration Act?
According to the U.S. House of Representative’s website, the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R Act) traces its roots back to the Great Depression and Dust Bowl days when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Wildlife Restoration Act, also known as the Pittman–Robertson Act of 1937. Named after its sponsors Key Pittman of Nevada in the Senate and Absalom Willis Robertson of Virginia in the House, the act directed taxes on firearms and ammunition sales back to the individual states to fund wildlife management and habitat protection.
And it is held in high esteem by nearly everyone associated with wildlife conservation and protecting our nation’s hunting heritage. And that’s true for not only the conservation benefit the P-R Act provides, but also for the protective guardrails that it puts in place to make sure that state governments don’t divert funds into other areas, deliberately or otherwise.
In fact, many billions of dollars are at stake. And that’s not empty political rhetoric either, since the United States Department of Interior noted in a 2022 press release that, “To date, the Service has distributed more than $25.5 billion in apportionments for state conservation and recreation projects.” “The recipient state wildlife agencies have matched these funds with approximately $8.5 billion throughout the years, primarily through hunting and fishing license revenues. And that figure continues to rise precipitously in the years that have followed. America’s sportsmen and sportswomen generated nearly $1.5 billion in excise taxes last year that support state conservation programs.”
What’s in Andrew Clyde’s New “RETURN” Bill?
Earlier this week, Congressman Andrew Clyde (GA-09), along with 53 cosponsors, all Republican, introduced the RETURN (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) our Constitutional Rights Act (HR 8167), which seeks to “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal certain excise taxes relating to firearms, and for other purposes.”
In laymen’s terms, the proposed bill would eliminate much of the money that fuels the long-standing Pittman-Robertson Act. That would happen when certain excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and even bows and arrows, would be stopped, all in the name of defending America’s Second Amendment liberties according to the Georgia representative.
In the background section of his press release detailing the bill, Clyde indicates that “Currently, an excise tax is applied at the manufacturer level for every firearm and all ammunition sold in the United States that is purchased by anyone other than the Department of Defense and state/local law enforcement. This tax infringes on Americans' ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights and creates a dangerous opportunity for the government to weaponize taxation to price this unalienable right out of reach for most Americans—a threat that is materializing by the day. Recently, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced the Assault Weapons Excise Act, which would impose a 1,000% tax on semi-automatic weapons.”
“In case my Democrat colleagues forgot, the Bill of Rights enumerates rights to which the government cannot infringe,” Clyde stated. “Unquestionably, infringement exists when the government taxes those rights to limit the people's ability to exercise them. As assaults against Americans’ Second Amendment freedoms continue to emerge, so do 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.”
Redirecting Conservation Funding
Clyde, who may have anticipated the blowback that is currently developing, noted that his bill also seeks to deal with the tax money revenue that would be lost to Pittman-Robertson under his proposed legislation. “Since the current firearms tax revenue funds beneficial programs under the Pittman-Robertson Act, such as hunter education and environmental care, this legislation redirects unallocated lease revenue generated by onshore and offshore energy development on federal lands, which currently flows into the general fund, to continue funding those important programs.”
Maybe so, but many in the conservation world and hunting industry aren’t buying what he’s selling right now. In fact, as noted above, swift reaction is developing across the nation from many corners in the conservation and hunting communities, and thus far, it’s in strong opposition to the proposed bill, which would gut huge amounts of dollars annually in wildlife conservation funding.
Do keep in mind that all of this is still in its infancy on Capitol Hill with the legislation proposal being only a few days old as of this writing. Obviously, Clyde has struck a nerve this week, and perhaps one that he didn’t intend to since Second Amendment supporters and supporters of the hunting tradition and wildlife conservation programs are often one and the same.