The amount of money earmarked for conservation in the US is at an all-time high and growing.
A big reason for this is that firearms and ammunition sales have literally gone over the roof. Those sales, along with sales of archery equipment, drove Pittman-Robertson’s tax dollars toward the billion dollar mark.
In 1937, Key Pittman and Absalom Robertson wrote a bill that would send the excise tax on firearms, 11% on long guns, and now 10% on handguns, to individual states to fund wildlife, conservation and research projects. Pittman-Robertson has generated more money in the past 10 years than in the past 72 years combined.
Why? Politics. More specifically, presidential elections where the second change, the right to keep and bear arms, will be the theme. After the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, there was a huge increase in arms and ammunition sales. Following the election of Joe Biden as president, there has now been another rapid increase in sales, almost four times more than when Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016.
Americans have been engaged in the most prolific civilian firearms buying frenzy in history, and sales aren’t just coming from past gun owners. In fact, more than eight million people who bought a firearm in the United States in 2020 were first-time buyers.
The trend continues this year. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there was an all-time high in firearms background checks of more than two million in January. With all that extra retail ammunition has disappeared from the shelves. For almost a year now, gun owners have been buying ammunition faster than manufacturers can produce it.
Back to tax money. The massive increase in arms and ammunition sales means more money for government agencies like the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. However, the money must be matched against one dollar for every three Pittman-Robertson dollars. This match is usually achieved through the sale of hunting licenses, but it can also come from other government sources.
Texas, home to more than a million hunters, has received the largest allocation of Pittman-Robertson dollars. North Dakota, with far fewer hunters and a much smaller geographic area, factors considered in Pittman-Robertson payouts is at the other end of the pay scale but is a major source of funding for conservation.
How long the surge in firearms and ammunition sales will last remains uncertain but remains heavily influenced by political winds. Of course, more product will be needed to generate additional Pittman-Robertson dollars. Meanwhile, the surge in taxable sales is translating into an unprecedented surge in wildlife conservation and research revenues.
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