What hunters should know about changing gun laws, proposed congressional action
The last few weeks have been a veritable roller coaster ride for gun owners. On June 9, the Biden Administration announced its intention to ban lead ammunition from National Wildlife Refuges across the country. Of the nearly 600 refuges in the system, 13 are here in New York.
So, while ammunition supply shortages have improved of late, the cost of any ammunition that is available has gone up by two and three-hundred percent, or more in some cases. If the new regulation is adopted, the forced use of non-lead ammo could create new problems for hunters using Federal lands and it is likely that prices will cycle even higher.
Just two weeks following the lead ban announcement, on June 23, the Supreme Court announced New York’s Sullivan Law is unconstitutional. Gun owners rejoiced. But, objectively the decision did not change the landscape for hunters because the decision focused on Second Amendment issues and handgun permits. States are already reacting to the decision and it’s a good bet that there will eventually be legal challenges, and then challenges to the challenges.
Right on the heels of the SCOTUS decision came the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.” Passed by both houses of Congress and immediately signed by the President, the new law has minimal, if any, intersect with hunting activities. The bill number is S.2938 and it addresses school safety, domestic violence, firearm “straw purchases” and a full menu of mental health issues. Will it tamp down gun violence? Will it make a difference? Only time will tell.
In response to the SCOTUS decision, Gov. Kathy Hochul called the Legislature back to Albany for a special session to address what she sees as the problems created when the high court struck down the Sullivan Law. The two-day session dramatically changed laws governing gun ownership in New York. There is a lot of confusion and angst over the law and in some cases there are things that are open to interpretation; especially with how it will impact the sporting community. I’m still digesting it, as are most of the people I normally turn to for answers. It is an issue we’ll be revisiting in the coming weeks, it just needs some time to percolate.
On another front, what could become a rather sticky issue has been thrown at the sporting community. A Congressman from Georgia’s Ninth Congressional District has introduced a bill − H.R. 8167 − that would repeal the Pittman-Robertson Act. If that happens, it could cripple wildlife agencies literally from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and north to Alaska. For the last 85 years the stability offered by the P-R Act has provided an estimated $14 Billion for wildlife conservation to the states. This year alone, New York could see more than $35 million in P-R funding.
Pittman-Robertson imposes an excise tax of up to 11% on guns, ammunition and other sporting equipment. The excise tax would be replaced by redirecting unallocated lease revenue generated by onshore and offshore energy development on federal lands. If the bill’s sponsor has his way he would replace the stability of Pittman-Robertson with revenue from leases that constantly change and where the revenue that is generated is already sewn into the fabric of the Federal budget. Over time, it is a revenue stream that could dry up, especially as our dependence on fossil fuels is reined in.
Ducks Unlimited is dedicated to the conservation of wetlands and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, other wildlife. It's just one of countless conservation organizations that put P-R funds to work.
As Ducks Unlimited explains it, the Pittman-Robertson took an existing excise tax on firearms and reallocated the proceeds to a grant fund for state wildlife agencies. It established a program of matching federal grants to the states for “wildlife restoration projects.” The Pittman-Robertson Act requires states, as a condition of receiving funding, to enact laws prohibiting the “diversion” of license fees paid by hunters for any purpose other than administration of their state wildlife agency. This established a reliable funding source for state wildlife agencies and, it also created an incentive for the agencies to maximize hunting license sales.
Some of the money is directed to hunter education, target range construction, and projects that require cooperation among several states. The bulk of the money is divided among the 50 states based on each state’s land area and the number of paid hunting and fishing license holders.
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik is one of the bill’s cosponsors. Stefanik represents a major part of the upstate region, including most, if not all, of the Adirondack Park. As well-intentioned as she may be, she needs to understand repealing Pittman-Robertson will cripple the state’s wildlife programs, including work done in our Wildlife Management Areas, many of which were purchased at least in part by P-R funds.
Additionally, in 2019 Congress amended Pittman-Robertson to eliminate the prohibition on states using Pittman-Robertson funds for “R3” activities − intended to offset the decades-long decline in hunters nationwide. The amendment also lifted the prohibition on using Pittman-Robertson Act funds for “public relations.” “R3” activities refers to marketing and communications efforts to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and recreational shooters.
Bill Conners of the Federation of Fish and Game Clubs writes on outdoors issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.