People seeking public office should do homework before embracing bad policy. If they don’t have the time, at minimum they should require their staff to be informed.
Every current Democratic presidential candidate is advocating an assault on wildlife and habitat conservation in America. It’s fair to assume they don’t know. They, like most Americans, are likely unaware that the bulk of wildlife conservation funding in this country comes from a healthy firearms industry.
Almost $1 billion each year goes to state wildlife and natural resource agencies courtesy of checks written by firearms, ammunition, and related manufacturers. It is the result of an 11 percent excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and related goods known as Pittman-Robertson, or the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.
The act was originally proposed by the firearms industry and supported by conservation groups like the National Wildlife Federation. It was bipartisan. It allowed states to marshal resources needed to recover dwindling populations of animals like white tail deer, elk, turkeys, and others. Because much of the success benefited hunters, there is a false assumption: they “pay the bill” in generating the tax. While it was mostly true in 1937, now it’s mostly not.
Today, roughly 80 percent of this firearms and ammunition tax comes from non-hunters. How’s that? We all hear left of center politicians and even “moderates” tying gun ownership and use to hunting. “I am a hunter” and “you don’t need that for hunting” are popular catchphrases of politicians endorsing certain gun, ammunition, and magazine bans.
They miss the target. What they don’t understand are the demographics of today’s gun ownership. Even as hunting‘s popularity is slowly declining, sport and practical shooting are way up. By sheer numbers, more people in America are shooting now than ever, although less are hunting.
Consider this: of all firearms sold in America today, only about one-quarter are used for hunting. Modern sporting rifles (like the AR family) are used for hunting at essentially the same rates as all other firearms. In fact, more modern sporting rifles are sold each year than all traditional hunting rifles combined—the same rifles Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke would go door to door “buying back” (confiscating).
Even more telling, half of all firearms purchased are handguns. These are primarily semiautomatics, also identified as “assault weapons” in misguided legislation. Ammunition purchased to use in these guns lines up in similar fashion.
This all means the lion’s share of wildlife conservation funding comes from the “non-hunting” shooting community. It also means that individuals, politicians, hunting, and conservation organizations that tacitly or openly endorse those pushing “bans” harm conservation across North America. They are complicit in gutting the goose that lays the golden egg: removing the primary source of state funds for conservation of wildlife and dedicated habitat.
In the future, spending on wildlife and habitat should continue to be the bedrock ideal of Pittman-Robertson. But it is time for realization, acceptance, and support of gunowners and recreational shooters who don’t hunt. They’re the ones who pay three-fourths of the bill.
The fact is, law abiding gunowners and their so-called “assault weapons” contribute more money annually to conservation than the Sierra Club, Humane Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Audubon Society combined. It’s not even close.
In states like Montana, California, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii, and others, top political leaders are hostile to the firearms industry and recreational shooters. Maybe they don’t realize they are taking hundreds of millions of dollars from recreational shooters in the name of conservation.
Those seeking public office need to be more informed. They need to know where the golden egg comes from—at least to consider it before they kill the goose.
Maybe if Pittman-Robertson’s billion dollars went only to those states where policies and leaders are supportive, they would see it differently. Perhaps if they knew their proposals would result in the largest single loss of conservation funding in our history, they would tone down the rhetoric.
At least if those seeking election (or even their staff) would dive into the real numbers and outcomes, America could have a more honest and informed debate. We must do a better job of education. If not, the future of shooting sports and the enormous conservation success it has funded dies with the goose.