Guest Column

A Tax We Don’t Mind Paying

Pittman-Robertson funds are generated through a tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery supplies, with all revenues earmarked for conservation, habitat improvement, and wildlife

By Don Thomas

While it may be hard to believe, there really is such a thing, and in this case the citizens among whom it is most popular are those who are paying it. Unfortunately, it is now fighting for its life in the House of Representatives.

Among hunters, anglers, and other conservationists, the third decade of the last century was known as the “Dirty Thirties.” Thanks to the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the legacy of unregulated commercial hunting, habitat conditions were terrible and wildlife populations were crashing. As had repeatedly been the case during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, it wasn’t animal rights activists who came to the rescue, but hunters.

At their urging, in 1937 Congress passed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, now commonly called Pittman-Robertson (or P-R) after the bill’s original sponsors. P-R created an 11% excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery supplies, with all revenues earmarked for conservation, habitat improvement, and wildlife. In 1950, the Dingell-Johnson bill created a similar tax on fishing tackle. These funds are distributed among state Fish and Wildlife agencies, with none siphoned off into the usual black holes of wasted taxpayer money.

The results were spectacular by any standard. On average, the program distributed $1.5 billion annually to the states. Habitats improved and wildlife populations boomed while hunting and fishing attracted record-setting numbers as indications of widespread popularity. In Montana alone, P-R contributed more than $2 billion to state wildlife and habitat programs over the last decade, and some $28 million in 2022. These costs did not have to be borne by Montana taxpayers other than hunters and anglers.

Now comes Rep. Andrew Cloyd (R-Ga.) and his grandiosely titled Repeal Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now Act (HR 8167). If passed, this bill would effectively repeal P-R. Cloyd, who owns a nationwide chain of firearms sales outlets, claims that P-R “infringes on Americans’ ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” although he doesn’t explain exactly how. HR 8167 has attracted over 50 co-sponsors including Montana’s own Matt Rosendale, who has apparently yet to realize that he is representing Montana, where (in contrast to Maryland) most of his constituents hunt and fish.

Now for the ultimate irony. P-R excise taxes are not being paid by the sellers but by the buyers, almost all of whom are happy to pay them! Virtually everyone I know in the hunting and angling community understands how P-R works and supports it. Contrary to its backers’ tired rhetoric, HR 8167 will spell disaster for fish and wildlife, and it will cost Montana an important source of revenue. Everyone who values Montana outdoor experiences should oppose this bill in the strongest possible terms – and remember who sponsored it come November.

Don Thomas of Lewistown writes about the outdoors for numerous national publications.

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