In response to the Democrats’ efforts to address gun violence amid the latest series of deadly mass shootings, dozens of House Republicans have sponsored legislation to do away with a centuries-old excise tax on firearms and ammunition that inflicts billions of dollars on wildlife conservation efforts and hunter education across the country.
The bill, dubbed the RETURN (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) Our Constitutional Rights Act, is as political as it is detached from history. And while there is little if any chance of overtaking, it has sparked immediate outrage in the hunting, fishing, sport shooting and conservation communities.
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) Introduced the measure last month with a wildly dishonest statement which portrayed the years-long tax on guns and ammunition as a kind of new left-wing attack on Second Amendment rights.
“As assaults on Americans’ Second Amendment freedoms continue to emerge, so do treacherous threats that seek to arm taxes to price this constitutional right beyond the reach of average Americans,” Clyde said. “I firmly believe that no American should be taxed on their enumerated rights, and that is why I intend to stop the left’s tyranny in its tracks by eliminating the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition.”
Rep Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.), a bill co-sponsor, has in a similar statement that the centuries-old tax “infringes on Americans’ ability to exercise their second right of amendment and creates a dangerous opportunity for the government to arm taxes to price this inalienable right out of reach for most Americans.”
In fact, the tax that Clyde and 57 other Republican associates want to eliminate from the bill is a tax paid by gun manufacturers and importers, not consumers. It has been in place since 1919. And since the adoption of the two-party Pittman – Robertson Act in 1937, tax revenue has been generated – 11% on long rifles, ammunition and archery equipment; 10% on small arms – distributed to states to pay for game management and research, habitat conservation, land acquisition and hunter education and safety.
Along with the repeal of the excise tax on rifles, ammunition, arrows and bows, the bill will reduce taxes on outboard motors and fishing gear boxes from 10% to 3%. It will also limit the tax on fishing rods to $ 10.
Meateater, a hunting website, pointed out that Clyde owns a firearms store in Georgia and will personally benefit from it if the bill passes.
The claim that the tax prevents Americans from buying guns is highly controversial at best. Firearms sales have it exploded in recent years. There are approximately 400 million privately owned firearms in the United States today.
The Pittman-Robertson Act has helped confront decades of overhunting and habitat loss by creating a financial link between hunting and conservation. Clyde’s home state of Georgia, for example, suggested early on to use Pittman-Robertson funds to dig freshwater feeding dams to help reclaim endangered migratory bird species. The law was described as a “pillar”Of the American model of funding wildlife conservation.
Just like when it’s over, Pittman-Robertson remains extremely popular with hunters, anglers, conservationists, and the firearms industry. And those communities were quick to condemn the new bill and its sponsors.
John Gal, Director of Conservation at Backcountry Hunters and AnglersA Montana-based nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining opportunities for hunting and fishing called the legislation “wrong” and said it would “recklessly unravel Pittman-Robertson funding as we know it.”
“Its passage will have devastating consequences for our fisheries and wildlife agencies and will limit the role of sportsmen and women in funding conservation, and reduce our effectiveness as a constituency,” he said in a statement. “For 85 years, the Pittman-Robertson Act has played a critical role in promoting responsive wildlife management in the United States, with U.S. hunters and industry members willing to contribute to the conservation of this irreplaceable resource. is a legacy that we are rightly proud of – and that we are committed to continuing forever. ”
Nephi Cole, director of government relations state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trading group, said he was “stunned” to have to discuss even such a terrible proposal.
“It’s irreplaceable,” Cole said of Pittman-Robertson on a episode of his podcast, “Jou Berg.” “Not only is it critical for wildlife and habitat, but, to be honest, it is important for America’s culture of firearms, hunting, conservation and use. It’s big. That’s a big thing. ”
Clyde’s office did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Thursday. Other sponsors include Reps. Lauren Boebert (Col.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.) And Matt Rosendale (Mont.).
HuffPost could not find an example of a hunting or gun advocacy group expressing support for the bill. Various organizations came out against the benchmark and appealed to co-sponsors of bills to withdraw their support.
Clyde and other GOP sponsors of the bill clearly understood that they were about to kick a horn nest. As written, the legislation will divert a maximum of $ 800 million in unallocated revenue from energy development on federal lands and waters to make up for lost funding through the Pittman-Robertson Act. Such a framework would now reflect the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses foreign fossil fuel revenues to acquire land and establish and protect parks, wildlife sanctuaries, forests and important wildlife habitats.
But $ 800 million would leave a huge gap in conservation dollars. This year, the Department of Home Affairs will hand out a record $ 1.5 billion to state wildlife agencies through the Pittman-Robertson Act and its fishing equivalent, the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act. To date, the programs have distributed a combined $ 25.5 billion for conservation and outdoor recreation projects.
“Hunters, anglers, and sportsmen and women have some of the deepest connections with nature,” Tommy Beaudreau, deputy secretary of home affairs, said in a February statement announcing the record funding. “For 85 years, this program has been the foundation for wildlife and habitat conservation and outdoor recreation across the country.”