Following withering pushback from hunting and other conservation organizations, the outdoor press and more, five Republican Congressman have now withdrawn their consponsorship from a bill that put the highly regarded Pittman-Robertson Act in the crossfire of the culture war over guns.
“Sometimes you look at a bill and, you know, it’s explained to be a positive and you look at it a little bit further and you change your mind,” Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman said in a story picked up by Yahoo News this week.
Grothman was one of 58 Republican lawmakers who initially supported the Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now, or RETURN, Act, that would have replaced the PR Act’s 10 to 11 percent excise tax on rifles, handguns, ammo and archery equipment with less dependable federal royalties from offshore oil and gas leases.
The latest annual PR disbursement to state fish and wildlife agencies was $1.5 billion; energy lease funding would max out at $800 million.
Argued RETURN Act prime sponsor, Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia gun store owner, the act’s excises “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” and that “no American should be taxed on their enumerated rights, which is why I intend to stop the Left’s tyranny in its tracks by eliminating the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition.”
A couple weeks beforehand, a Virginia Democrat did introduce a bill to tax semiauto AR-15-style rifles at 1,000 percent.
That makes Clyde’s legislation something of a “show bill,” but there does appear to be a deeper push against the PR Act at work.
It was in the crosshairs of some in Congress back in May, if a warning letter from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmen’s Alliance, NRA, NSSF and others is any indication.
Since the 1930s, the venerable act has delivered back to the states a mighty $15 billion for conservation, hunting, hunter ed and shooting ranges.
It has cemented hunters’ place at the forefront of protecting, conserving and forever perpetuating America’s wildlife, and funds hunter education, and – at least in Washington – it is critical that the key revenue source not be put in jeopardy at a time when some want to change the face of critter management.
A key element of the PR Act is the so-called “29 words” that protect hunter license fees from pilfering by state lawmakers for other purposes: “… And which shall include a prohibition against the diversion of license fees paid by hunters for any other purpose than the administration of said State fish and game department….”
Pittman-Robertson also served as a template, per se, for the Dingell-Johnson Act’s taxes on fishing gear and Wallop-Breaux Act’s taxes on boating fuel. All told, state fish and wildlife agencies have received $25.5 billion from the trio.
“There’s no reason to get involved in a debate on that bill at this time,” Wisconsin Rep. Grothman told HuffPost on why he withdrew his support this past Tuesday. “I decided, ‘Why open that can of worms?’”
First to erase his name was Florida Rep. John Rutherford, who unsponsored it on July 12, followed the next day by Reps. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Austin Scott of Georgia, then Earl Carter of Georgia on July 15.
“This is how democracy is supposed to work,” BHA’s Land Tawney told reporters HuffPost reporters Chris D’Angelo and Arthur Delaney. “When ill-fated ideas are presented, the people respond, and in this case they resoundingly said no. That’s why this bill is going nowhere. Rep. Clyde should heed the actions of his colleagues and pull this misguided legislation altogether.”