Ten bills were introduced on the first day of the 113th Congressional session that deal with firearms. Most of those seek to ban certain modern sporting rifles and restrict magazine capacity. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings it shouldn’t be a surprise to see gun bans and other anti-gun legislation being brought forward. It’s also no surprise that Second Amendment advocacy groups are fighting hard to stop this new legislation.
But there’s another facet to this story we all must consider: how all of these severely restrictive guns laws, if passed, would influence our public land access and conservation funding. Most folks don’t seem to realize that banning AR-15s would severely erode funding for popular access programs paid for by Pittman-Robertson funds.
Pittman-Robertson funds come from an excise tax placed upon firearms, ammunition and reloading supplies. In fiscal year 2012, that meant a proposed $370,759,585 were to be given to the state game and fish agencies to be used to increase access to landlocked public lands, create and fund new shooting ranges, protect some of our best habitat through conservation easements and help states pay for the management of non-game species so hunter and angler dollars weren’t used to manage long-legged Myotis rather than elk, trout, and bighorn sheep.
That chunk of change came directly from hunters, anglers and recreational shooters who purchased firearms, even AR-15s. In fact, AR-15s make up some of the most popular lines for manufacturers like Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Remington and many other household names.
There are, conservatively, more than 2.5 million modern sporting rifles in the United States. These rifles have a sales rate higher than anything but handguns. These guns are funding programs that help conserve sensitive species through sound scientific management.
If we engage in a little fanciful math we can see that 2.5 million firearms at approximately $900 per gun equals $2.25 billion in sales. Factor the 11 percent excise tax we have on PR funds, and that means $247,500,000 was generated for conservation and access based on the estimated number of modern sporting rifles out there. Granted, this is just some scrap paper math using the NRA and Slate Magazine’s figures, but the point is that we’re working with a big figure.
The funding issue may be a fact many are uncomfortable with, but the truth is usually difficult and complex. Nobody in America likes gun violence. But in our rush to find a solution, we have to keep in mind that the economics and the funding for conservation related to firearms is deeply ingrained in our regulatory mechanisms just as it is in our American culture.
Hunters, anglers and recreational shooters foot the bill for a large share of the access and conservation funding in the United States. We’ve done so voluntarily and even sought out the excise taxes we pay on sporting equipment. We understand that users should pay the costs of maintaining opportunity, that’s why we do this. Short-sighted legislation created from a swiftly jerking knee might seem like good politics, but it’s horrible policy.