In wake of the tragic Parkland and Santa Fe shootings, renewed calls for gun control have been louder than ever. It is clear no one wants to see more criminal gun behavior, but certain proposed solutions won’t prevent future crimes. Despite a unified effort by celebrities and politicians to usher in gun control legislation, the American public has responded by joining or donating to gun rights organizations in large numbers. Sportsmen comprising firearms enthusiasts and hunters believe a concerted attack on firearms is a concerted attack on their sporting lifestyle.
Gun control has proven ramifications — both philosophically and practically. It doesn’t deter criminal behavior; instead, it punishes law-abiding gun owners for the horrible actions of criminals. If gun control policies were enacted, perhaps the biggest loser would be conservation efforts related to wildlife and habitat restoration efforts in the United States.
The notion that firearms sales benefit conservation efforts seems far-fetched to most Americans. How can purchasing firearms and hunting licenses benefit conservation efforts? How can harvesting wildlife in a controlled fashion lead to regeneration of certain species? It seems like a ridiculous notion to most people, given misconceptions about shooting sports and hunting found in society today. If you examine the history of conservation in America, however, observers will discover the large role hunters have played in advancing stewardship, in restoring wildlife species, and in protecting threatened habitats. A key factor bolstering these goals derives from excise taxes imposed on firearms.
Gun control could be detriment to conservation funding, which is made possible by excise taxes paid by hunters and anglers. Excise taxes are paid when consumers make purchases on specific good or activities — particularly on firearms and ammunition in this case. NPR recently documented that a sizeable amount of money apportioned from excise taxes — including those imposed on firearms purchases — goes back to state wildlife agencies.
The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, or Pittman-Robertson Act, is responsible for excise taxes placed on firearms and ammunition that apply to habitat and wildlife restoration efforts. When this law was conceived last century, it directed revenue from hunting license fees to wildlife management efforts. The law also imposed an 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition and later directed the Department of Interior to direct this revenue to state wildlife agencies through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). These excise taxes are also collected from fishing and archery equipment.
What would happen to this funding source if unilateral gun control policies were enacted in individual states or at the federal level? Much of these Pittman-Robertson funds would disappear. As a result, habitat and wildlife conservation efforts would suffer from this diminished funding source if policies like this were enacted.
Gun control could also have a direct impact on hunting participation numbers, which has suffered a large decline in recent years. In a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, the agency noted that hunting participation fell two million hunters from 2011 figures — figures that now hover at 11.5 million hunters. Further attacks on hunting, whether on social media or by gun control advocates seeking to ban common semi-automatic hunting rifles, could put the industry further behind. Unless other funding sources to pay for conservation efforts are explored or tapped into, the Department of Interior and state wildlife agencies will still largely rely on revenue from firearms sales to foot the bill for habitat and wildlife restoration efforts.
Gun control could have a negative impact on America’s hunting legacy. While the Second Amendment doesn’t protect our right to go hunting, hunters recognize the importance of safeguarding gun rights. If most basic semi-automatic firearms were outlawed or severely limited, how would hunters be able to participate in their beloved sport?
Most Americans are unaware that hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts help foot the bill for roughly 60 percent of conservation efforts in this country. If certain policies limiting the sale of firearms were enacted, that could have deleterious effects on habitat and wildlife restoration efforts in this country.
Before advocating for gun control, we would do well to research the effects it will have not only on individual rights to keep and bear arms but the effect it will have on conservation funding.
Gabriella Hoffman (@Gabby_Hoffman) is a conservative media strategist and consultant based in Northern Virginia. She worked previously for the nonprofit Leadership Institute.