Rep. Andrew Clyde’s (R-Georgia) Return Act bill has not been welcomed by many conservation and outdoors-related groups. First, here’s a synopsis of the legislation via the representative’s website:
Currently, an excise tax is applied at the manufacturer level for every firearm and all ammunition sold in the United States that is purchased by anyone other than the Department of Defense and state/local law enforcement. 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. Recently, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced the Assault Weapons Excise Act, which would impose a 1,000% tax on semi-automatic weapons.To restore the American people’s Second Amendment liberties, Rep. Clyde’s RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act will repeal excise taxes on firearms and ammunition, as well as bows and arrows. Since the current firearms tax revenue funds beneficial programs under the Pittman-Robertson Act, such as hunter education and environmental care, this legislation redirects unallocated lease revenue generated by onshore and offshore energy development on federal lands, which currently flows into the general fund, to continue funding those important programs. Original cosponsors include: Representatives Brian Babin (TX-36), Jim Banks (IN-03), Andy Biggs (AZ-05), Lauren Boebert (CO-03), Mike Bost (IL-12), Mo Brooks (AL-05), Tim Burchett (TN-02), Buddy Carter (GA-01), Madison Cawthorn (NC-11), Michael Cloud (TX-27), James Comer (KY-01), Warren Davidson (OH-08), Rodney Davis (IL-13), Scott DesJarlais (TN-04), Pat Fallon (TX-04), Drew Ferguson (GA-03), Michelle Fischbach (MN-07), Virginia Foxx (NC-05), Matt Gaetz (FL-01), Louie Gohmert (TX-01), Bob Good (VA-05), Paul Gosar (AZ-04), Sam Graves (MO-06), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14), Morgan Griffith (VA-09), Glenn Grothman (WI06), Andy Harris (MD-01), Diana Harshbarger (TN-01), Jody Hice (GA-10), Clay Higgins (LA-03), Ronny Jackson (TX-13), Trent Kelly (MS-01), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Debbie Lesko (AZ-08), Barry Loudermilk (GA-11), Thomas Massie (KY-04), Brian Mast (FL-18), Mary Miller (IL-15), Barry Moore (AL-02), Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), Troy Nehls (TX-22), Ralph Norman (SC-05), Scott Perry (PA-04), Matt Rosendale (MT-At-Large), Chip Roy (TX-21), John Rutherford (FL-04), Jason Smith (MO-08), Elise Stefanik (NY-21), Greg Steube (FL-17), Van Taylor (TX-03), Tom Tiffany (WI-07), Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Randy Weber (TX-14).Full text of the RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act can be found HERE.
The bill would repeal the decades-old Pittman-Robertson Act, legislation dating back to 1937 that has through taxes on firearm purchases provided valuable funding for fish and wildlife restoration projects. So it’s clear why sportsmen and -women are vehemently opposed to this bill, which has backing from many House members who are among the most controversial in Congress since the 2020 Presidential election, Jan. 6 insurrection and unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 has served as the essential foundation of our country’s world-leading and highly successful wildlife conservation model, responsible for the recovery of many wildlife species over the past 85 years. PR funds are generated via a 10-11% excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment, gathered from the manufacturer and put into the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, which are then distributed to state wildlife agencies. This tax was self-imposed by sportsmen, a widely supported program then and now.
What makes PR so effective is that it funds work at the state level by each of our 50 state wildlife management agencies. This ensures that these dollars are spent on the ground and make a meaningful impact. For 85 years, PR has been the backbone of the management that ensures that wildlife that are pursued by hunters flourish.
Between Pittman-Robertson and the similar Dingell-Johnson Act, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has distributed more than $23 billion to states for wildlife restoration projects. For example, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game will receive more than $21 million in this year alone.
These funds, while critical to hunting and angling, are also vital in reducing barriers of entry into sport-shooting activities. States use PR funds to “Recruit, Retain, and Reactivate” and reduce barriers to participation in shooting sports by enhancing access to shooting ranges and providing hunting and recreational shooting education.
Revenues generated from PR have greatly benefitted our country’s waterfowl populations through wetland restoration projects.
WHAT’S PROPOSED IN THE RETURN ACT?
The RETURN Act would disregard generations of successful conservation efforts and overwhelming support by outright repealing excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and bows and arrows. The bill text also calls for a limitation on tax imposed on fishing rods.
The bill sponsor suggests directing $800 million in unallocated lease revenue generated by energy development in an effort to cover up for loss of revenue, however the bill is actually written to direct funding into a different set of programs that focus on nongame wildlife species. Not only is this a reduction in the total funding that PR and Dingell Johnson currently generates ($1.5 billion in 2021), we also have serious concerns about the lack of certainty this structure provides for state wildlife management agencies.
Let your Congressmen know that the RETURN Act is an affront on our conservation model that is funded and supported by sportsmen and women.
Garret Visser is the conservation program coordinator for the Idaho Wildlife Federation. Founded in 1936, the Idaho Wildlife Federation is Idaho’s oldest and largest statewide conservation organization promoting the conservation of Idaho’s wildlife heritage and legacy of sporting opportunities. IWF quickly became the state’s leading voice and influence to curtail decline and rebound game and wildlife populations. Today, the Idaho Wildlife Federation is the voice of Idaho’s wildlife, habitat, public lands and sporting interests.
Feeling outraged about the RETURN Act and its threat to conservation funding? Well, it gets worse
The recent introduction of the RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act of 2022, also known as the RETURN Act and H.R. 8167, has rightly shocked and outraged sportsmen and sportswomen, who proudly contribute to America’s successful conservation funding model through our firearm, ammunition, and other gear purchases.
If you’ve been following the story, you know the bill’s goal is to obliterate Pittman-Robertson funding—which allows state wildlife agencies to make habitat improvements, enhance hunting and fishing access, run hunter’s education programs, and create public shooting ranges across the country. It purports to use other “unobligated” federal funds in a misguided attempt to replace the excise taxes, shifting the cost to every American taxpayer and undercutting the role of hunters and anglers in conservation.
But it actually gets worse.
In digging into the bill language, our experts have found that the RETURN Act only replaces P-R excise taxes with funding for non-game species conservation—diverting funds that have historically helped to restore and maintain populations of whitetail deer, elk, wild turkeys, bass, walleyes, and trout and spending it on salamanders and butterflies.
At best, this is a disastrous oversight. At worst, it is yet another red flag for the fundamental misunderstanding of some lawmakers when it comes to how our country’s conservation model works.
Add your voice to this outcry: Take action using our simple advocacy tool to urge your representative to oppose the RETURN Act. Public backlash has already prompted three co-sponsors to pull their support for this bill. Keep the momentum going and keep America’s proud conservation traditions working for fish and game.