Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde (GA-09) and 53 co-sponsors last month introduced the TURN BACK Our Constitutional Rights Act, which would eliminate the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition. (RETURN stands for “Repeal Special Tax on Inalienable Rights Now”.)
This tax, first imposed by the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund conservation efforts and land access by state wildlife agencies. Rep. Clyde said that he wants to repeal this funding because the tax violates Second Amendment rights.
“In case my fellow Democrats have forgotten, the Bill of Rights lists rights that the government may not infringe. Unquestionably, there is infringement when the government taxes those rights to limit people’s ability to exercise them,” Rep. Clyde said in a press release. “As attacks on Americans’ Second Amendment freedoms continue to surface, so do treacherous threats seeking to weaponize taxes to put this constitutional right beyond the reach of the average American.”
Conservationists see the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition as a good thing. If you are one of those conservationists and are feeling confused, it might be helpful to read Rep. Clyde’s statement again in the voice of Boss Hogg of Hazzard County, Georgia. It’s not District 9, but it can help. Just a suggestion.
Regardless, Rep. Clyde elaborates on his desire to repeal the excise tax later in his press release: “This tax infringes on the ability of Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights and creates a dangerous opportunity for the government to use taxes as a weapon to put a price on this inalienable right. out of reach for most Americans, a threat that materializes day by day,” he says.
He cites as an example of this threat a bill recently introduced by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), which would impose a 1,000% tax on semi-automatic weapons. This bill would increase by a factor of 10 the price of any semi-automatic weapon that does not use rimfire ammunition and is capable of holding more than five rounds in a tube-fed magazine or uses detachable magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. . .
To replace funding for state wildlife departments (what the press release calls “hunter education and environmental stewardship”), Rep. Clyde proposes redirecting unallocated rental income generated by onshore energy development and offshore on federal lands, which currently flow into the general fund, to continue funding those conservation programs.
The press release fails to mention that the maximum amount that can be transferred from oil and gas revenues to wildlife departments is $800 million. That’s a good chunk of change, but Pittman-Robertson alone generated more than $1 billion each year in 2020 and 2021.
“Our conservation model is funded and supported by America’s hunters, shooters, fishermen, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts,” former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in 2020. “These conservation managers generated nearly billion dollars last year alone and make our country’s conservation legacy the envy of the world.”
President Donald Trump was still in office in 2020 and we historically sell more firearms and ammunition when the Democrats are in control. So it’s safe to assume that if we cap Pittman-Robertson/Dingell-Johnson funding at $800 million, we’ll be losing more and more in the years to come.
It’s also worth noting that, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), gun sales are at unprecedented levels and firearm production has increased substantially since the 1990s. If Pittman-Robertson were hurting the arms industry, we would expect the opposite. My sources also tell me that support for Rep. Clyde’s bill among gun manufacturers is essentially nil. These are the people who have to pay the excise duty long before the consumer buys the product.
Going all the way back to the root of the problem, Pittman-Robertson was enacted along bipartisan lines in the US House and Senate to not tax firearms. It was enacted to finance wildlife conservation through the purchase of firearms. That may sound like splitting hairs, but there is a big difference between the two. Even in 1937, I can’t imagine that a tax just to squeeze gun owners would have gone nowhere.
And one last thing: Rep. Clyde owns a gun store in Georgia called the Clyde Armory. I’m sure he’s motivated by nothing more than a selfless desire to protect Second Amendment rights, but he stands to benefit from repealing the federal excise tax on the product he sells.
If you hate Rep. Beyer’s proposed semi-automatic gun tax, make sure your rep knows it. If you don’t like all taxes, call your rep and tell him you love hunting and fishing, and that we should secure habitat and wildlife funding some other way.
In other words, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Or cut off our noses to annoy our faces. Or say whatever you think people want to hear because he’s desperate to get re-elected.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the RETURN Act adjusts the fish tax dollars covered by the Dingell-Johnson Act.