We have all suffered from the great ammunition crunch. Prices soared and shelves stood empty. What used to start off with a couple of buddies on the phone agreeing to meet at the range after picking up a couple of boxes of ammo became a scavenger hunt just to find one box. Then, if you could find it, most often, prices were not friendly.
Soon after, shooters began gaming the system. Networks to track ammunition sales started. People shared supply on social media. As is true of most items when demand skyrockets past supply, and manufacturers are unable to increase production or even increase their purchase of raw materials to increase supply, the hoarding begins. There was pandemonium in the ammo aisle everywhere.
While supply and demand affected prices across the board for both guns and ammunition, few of us realized a huge benefit derived. In the late 1930s, Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act, now modified and updated several times since to meet current needs. To be fair, the Act is an excise tax that benefits wildlife and conservation. Given the boom in firearm and ammo sales, the funds collected via Pittman-Robertson shot up to whopping $824 million. That set a new record topping 2013’s tally by about $2 million. To put that into context, 2014’s record setting total tripled the amount of excise tax collected only a decade earlier.
How does the Pittman-Robertson Act work?
The excise tax is set at 11% of the wholesale price for long guns and ammunition and 10% of the wholesale price on handguns. Paid by manufacturers, producers and importers, the excise tax applies basically to all commercial sales and imports whether the purpose is for shooting, hunting or personal defense. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in the Department of the Treasury, which turns the funds over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), currently administer the tax.
A Look Back
Though politics is not our focus, President Obama has been accused of many things, including being the greatest gun salesman in history, and that is within our wheelhouse. A quick look at the number of firearm sales shows why. Beginning in 2008, under the fear of what the President might do, firearm sales soared. Early gun control attempts were soundly defeated for the most part thanks to gun rights organizations and strong grass roots efforts by the pro Second Amendment forces. Other high profile shooting and legislative attempts have kept sales high. Of course, the more guns sold, so will shooters need more ammunition.
The U.S. fish and Wildlife Service recently divided and released the Pittman-Robertson Act 2014 funds to state wildlife agencies. Name a game species, fur or fowl, huntable or endangered, and you have one of the unintended consequences that has benefitted. If you enjoy hunting deer, Pittman-Robertson just upped your game.
Does wingshooting or waterfowling make your blood boil? You benefitted as well. Perhaps you do not hunt and simply target shoot, but spotted owls are your passion; you benefitted as well from the massive increase in funds provided from each purchase of ammunition or firearms. Even if you do not give a passing thought to any animal, the funds support habitat, manage certain populations, research wildlife health issues (Chronic Wasting Disease and Brainworm) and improve land for wildlife as well as purchasing new public land. Everyone wins in one form or fashion from each purchase.
Just as a side note, I do not recommend coming home with an armful of new guns and a pickup truck with the bed sagging to the axels due to the weight of all of the ammunition. Well, I do recommend it, but I do not recommend getting caught by your spouse and trying to convince that it was for the greater good of the critters. Especially if they happen to greet you at the door with a frying pan in hand and no bacon in sight—just sayin’…
I once had a political science professor who used the acronym TANSTAFL—There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch—and Pittman-Robertson does come with requirements. For instance, to get the money the state must match funds at a level of $3 Federal to $1 from the state. It is good for the states to have some skin in the game, but the boon has strained some state budgets to keep pace.
How long will it last?
No one knows for sure, but the pace of growth is slowing. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) recently reported the number of background checks (NICS) where still at record levels; however, that is only accounts for sales or transfers at the retail level. Pittman-Robertson collects at the wholesale level from the manufacturer, so used guns and private party transfers do not affect the revenues collected. Likewise, the shelves are full of ammunition these days and production is meeting demand. Does that signal a slowdown in ammo purchases? That does not mean funds are going to dry up for conservation or the benefits from the hoarding will diminish anytime soon. 2015 is on pace to generate revenues somewhere around 2012 levels, perhaps it will finish at the 2013 level. Either way hunters, shooters, supporters of wildlife, public lands, and most importantly wildlife will continue to benefit from your firearm and ammunition purchases. So, feel free to give yourself a pat on the back the next time you fill your shopping cart with the new concealed carry gun you have had your eye on or to resupply your personal cache. Hunting season is around the corner. Now is the time to pick up a new goose gun or deer rifle. You are not hoarding; you are practicing sound, responsible conservation! But remember the frying pan thing. No bacon? Just circle the block until they tire…
Are you a conservationist? Share your latest purchase in the comment section.