House Republicans have introduced legislation that would repeal the law taxing firearms and ammunition in a preemptive strike against future gun control. However, the move may also reduce funding for wildlife conservation.
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) is proposing the RETURN (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) our Constitutional Rights Act of 2022, which would eliminate the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition introduced under the amended Pittman-Robertson Act.
The Pittman-Robertson Act, or the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, imposes a 10 to 11 percent tax on all firearms and ammunition. The income generated from the taxes is distributed to the states to support research and conservation.
The bill would offset the lost income by tapping onshore and offshore energy leases, which are already taxed. But with prominent Democrats calling for increased taxation as a means of gun control, Clyde argues it’s time to block the excise taxes altogether.
“In case my Democrat colleagues forgot, the Bill of Rights enumerates rights to which the government cannot infringe,” said Clyde in a press release. “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,” he said. “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.”
“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,” reads the release. “Recently, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced the Assault Weapons Excise Act, which would impose a 1,000 percent tax on semi-automatic weapons.”
Excise taxes under the Pittman-Robertson Act aren’t limited to just firearms and ammunition. They also impose taxes on fishing rods, bows and arrows sold in the United States.
John Gale, Conservation Director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers defended the Pittman-Robertson Act. In 2021, the tax generated about $1.5 billion for conservation.
“This bill is not only offensive to conservation-minded companies in the hunting and shooting sports industry that oppose such a careless waste of time in Congress,” said Gale. “It’s an affront to hunters and recreational shooters that proudly support the legacy of Pittman-Robertson — legislation that the hunting community and gun industry leaders advocated for in the first place to give back to the wildlife resources that are the foundation of our cherished outdoor traditions.”
The RETURN Act would carve out funds from other sources to offset the lost income for conservation. The bill would redirect unallocated lease revenue generated by onshore and offshore energy development on federal lands, which currently flows into the general fund, to fund wildlife conservation and hunter education.