Bill to expand public shooting ranges advances in Congress

The McHenry Shooting Range in Perkinston, MS was built by the Mississippi Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks using Pittman-Robertson funds. (Photo: MDWFP)

The McHenry Shooting Range in Perkinston, MS was built by the Mississippi Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks using Pittman-Robertson funds. (Photo: MDWFP)

A bipartisan measure that could see the number of shooting ranges available on public land expanded was reported out of committee this week in the U.S. House.

The bill, H.R. 788, has 61 co-sponsors from 34 states including seven Democrats and was reported out of the Committee on Natural Resources on a voice vote Tuesday, making it eligible for a floor vote by the full House.

The proposal would use money already made available to the federal government through the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, commonly referred to as Pittman–Robertson after the two lawmakers pivotal to its passage. This 80-year-old law uses an excise tax levied on all firearms and ammunition sold or imported into the country to perform conservation-related tasks as varied as restoring elk habitat to funding safety programs and establishing public shooting ranges.

It is hoped by supporters of the bill that the move to up the number of public ranges will help turn around flagging numbers of hunters in the field.

The latest National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, compiled every five years since 1955, found that the ranks of active hunters fell by some 8 percent, from 12.5 million in 2006 to 11.4 million in 2016. Total expenditures by hunters also fell some 29 percent from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion.

“Increasing urbanization and suburbanization has made it more difficult for the public to participate in hunting and recreational shooting than when PRWRA was first enacted in 1937,” said the Committee report on H.R. 788, released this week. “One of the primary reasons for the decline in the number of hunters and recreational shooters is the growing lack of access to quality shooting and target ranges.”

Under the current guidelines, states must match federal government funding 25 cents on the dollar to begin working on such shooting ranges. The proposed bill would drop this formula to 90/10 while also allowing funds to accrue for up to five years to help fund purchase of land for shooting ranges and construction.

Paid for by manufacturers and producers, the Pittman-Robertson revenues have been pushed into overdrive in recent years because of a spike in gun and ammunition sales. In 2012, the fund apportioned $371 million to state conservation agencies. By 2015, it broke $1 billion and has maintained that level since. This year the feds made $1.1 billion available to wildlife agencies under the program, however, some local agencies are hamstrung over how to take advantage of the windfall due to limited matching funds on their end.

“H.R. 788 will give states more flexibility in using Pittman-Robertson excise tax funds, generated by the sale of firearms and ammunition, to develop and maintain public recreational shooting ranges,” Lawrence G. Keane, National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president and general counsel, told

Keane said the legislation has been a priority for the firearms industry trade group because it will encourage participation in recreational shooting, which, in turn, will generate more funds for conservation and public ranges.

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