Recently, the RETURN (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) Constitutional Rights Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. While initially marketed as protecting the Second Amendment, in reality, the bill disrupts and could even eliminate the American System of Conservation. As the leader in defending the freedom to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide, Safari Club International stands in strong opposition to this anti-hunting bill.
The RETURN Act would eliminate a primary funding source for state fish and wildlife agencies. Since 1937, The Pittman-Robertson Act has put $15 billion towards wildlife conservation, hunter recruitment, construction of public shooting ranges, and other conservation activities. In fact, the excise tax directed by Pittman-Robertson generated more than $1 billion in funding last year alone.
The Pittman-Robertson fund is supplied by a 10% to 11% excise tax on the manufacture of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, and other sporting goods. It is critical to note that this tax is not levied on the purchaser, but on the manufacturer. Through purchasing firearms and hunting equipment, consumers are supporting the Pittman-Robertson fund, but not contributing directly to it. Thus, any argument that the RETURN Act is protecting Constitutional freedoms from an infringing tax is baseless and inaccurate. Repealing this tax does nothing to protect our rights and everything to dismantle conservation funding. Make no mistake, this bill is a direct attack on the hunting community.
As the world’s foremost conservationists, all hunters should oppose this bill. In fact, sportsmen and women led the original effort to create the Pittman-Robertson funding system during the Great Depression. Since then, species across North America from waterfowl to elk have seen astounding recoveries due to conservation efforts largely funded by Pittman-Robertson. Eliminating these funds, which are allocated to all 50 states, would place state wildlife agencies and critical conservation efforts in severe financial jeopardy.
SCI strongly supports state fish and wildlife agencies’ authority to manage the natural resources within their respective states. State wildlife managers and agency personnel provide technical expertise that is crucial to sustainable, state-based management, and ultimately, state agency funding. These trained experts within the agencies ensure that management decisions and on-the-ground conservation efforts are done so with a personal and strong understanding of their potential impacts on the resource, users, and agency goals.
These topics of state management authority and Pittman-Robertson funding were focused on in SCI Advocacy’s Big 5 Summer Series. Throughout the summer, SCI highlighted the most pressing issues affecting hunting and conservation around the world through panels, informative sessions, and testimony from the experts. During series two – state management authority and Pittman-Robertson – SCI hosted a panel of state wildlife agency leaders to discuss state conservation funding and efforts. Missouri Department of Conservation Director Sarah Pauley, Nebraska Department of Game and Parks Director Tim McCoy, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams, Nevada Division of Wildlife Director Tony Wasley, and Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Bryan Nesvik all noted the importance of Pittman- Robertson and how much it funds the work of every state wildlife agency in the country.
Watch the recording of the panel and learn more about the Big 5 Summer Series at https://safariclub.org/big-five-series/.
Unfortunately, the RETURN Act is yet another example of state wildlife management authority challenged by federal overreach. Despite best intentions and assurances, the bill’s author has provided no concrete method or revenue stream to replace these critical funds should the tax be repealed. At the end of the day, politicians in Washington should not dictate state agency programs.
Anti-hunting sentiment is growing culturally, in the media, and in legislation across the United States. Hunters are the world’s primary conservationists through wildlife management and purchase of hunting tags and licenses. Many donate to conservation projects, participate in habitat conservation, and join hunting organizations with the goal of preserving hunting traditions for generations to come. All hunters, recreational shooters, and other sportsmen participate in the Pittman- Robertson system; however, without it, the largest conservation fund will be eliminated. With anti-hunting and anti-firearm efforts growing all over the country, the last thing Congress should do is remove the hunter- funded system of conservation.
SCI is leading the fight against this bill in Congress. SCI joined a coalition of 42 other hunting and conservation organizations, representing millions of hunters, recreational shooters, professional societies, and other outdoor recreationists, in a letter to House and Senate committee leadership reaffirming the community’s support of Pittman- Robertson and opposing any drastic changes to it. These groups support the current user pays-public benefits system as a system that works. Thanks to unified opposition from the hunting and shooting sports communities, to date seven members of Congress have removed their co-sponsorships of the bill.
Georgia resident, hunter, firearm owner, and SCI Georgia Chapter President Chris Albrecht also penned an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution opposing the RETURN Act in July. He wrote, in part, “Among several red flags noted in the letter was one main point how revoking the law would negatively impact the hunting community’s bond with state fish and wildlife agencies. By directly allocating funds from purchases under the Pittman- Robertson Act towards conservation and other programs, sportsmen and sporting manufacturers have a ‘seat held at the decision-making table’” with these agencies, giving them more opportunities to play a significant role in defending hunters’ rights and participate in crucial conversations. Congress should protect this relationship to avoid the inevitable dangerous consequences that stem from a less-inclusive and more uninformed decision-making process.”
SCI’s EVP of International, Government, and Public Affairs, Ben Cassidy, said, “With SCI’s unique position as the only hunting rights organization with a Washington, D.C.–based international advocacy team, we are working every day to ensure that the RETURN Act is defeated. The American System of Conservation Funding, with hunters as the foremost conservationists, has worked for nearly 100 years. Eliminating it now would be catastrophic for habitat, hunters, and wildlife.”
All sportsmen and women should be, and most are, opposed to this bill. If you value your hunting heritage, support your state wildlife agency, and are focused on conservation, SCI encourages you to take action and stand with the hunting community in opposition to this bill. Through SCI’s Hunter Advocacy Action Center, go to the following link to act and contact your member of Congress today: https://act.safariclub.org/pasj8uf.
To join SCI and stand First for Hunters, please visit https://safariclub.org/join/.