House committee advances bill modernizing excise tax fund to promote shooting sports

House lawmakers advanced a proposal this week allowing states to use funds from a federal excise tax on gun sales to  promote shooting sports.

The House Committee on Natural Resources approved the plan Tuesday modernizing the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to reflect the shrinking pool of hunters, anglers and shooters paying into the fund. Georgia Republican Rep. Austin Scott sponsored the bill last year in hopes of attracting new enthusiasts via social media and television ads.

“With a national decline in hunting and recreational fishing, Pittman-Robertson funds are shrinking and our state and local habitats are suffering, which is why I am pushing this legislation to give states more flexibility in how they use their PR funds and hopefully attract more Americans to the outdoors in the process,” he said. “I am very pleased the Committee favorably passed my PR modernization bill, and I will keep pressing until our decades-old wildlife conservation funding receives the critical updates it deserves.”

H.R. 2591 allows states to use up to $5 million of federal tax dollars collected through firearm and ammo sales for funding hunter and recreational shooter recruitment grants. States can also use a portion of their grants for general marketing purposes and for building, maintaining and promoting gun ranges.

It’s a much-appreciated technological leap forward for Virgil Moore, president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “We find that our constituents have certain expectations of their state fish and wildlife agencies, specifically the ability to utilize more effective means of communications today,” he said. “This bill will allow us the opportunity to meet those expectations while allowing us to continue to meet our wildlife conservation objectives and ensuring that funding for wildlife conservation will keep pace with the demands of our citizens and communities.”

A 2017 federal report found the number of hunters nationwide declined 2.2 million between 2011 and 2016, decreasing hunting-related spending by $29 million and equipment sales by 18 percent in the same period.

Becky Humphries, chief executive officer of the National Wild Turkey Federation, said the proposal will help reverse this downward trend.

“As a hunter, Congressman Scott knows this act is greatly needed to update the foundation of the legislation and allow us to recover hunter numbers, just as hunters have helped wildlife recover across the country,” she said.

The Pittman-Roberston fund awarded over $1.1 billion to states in 2018 for the conservation of wildlife habitats and hunter safety education, among other efforts. Since its inception 81 years ago, the fund has generated more than $20 billion in aid for state programs.

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