The following OP-ED is by Anne Muller of Wildwatch, a division of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting
Hunting Needs to be Part of the Gun Debate:
Taking a Hard Look at the Pittman-Robertson Act
Hunting as a part of the gun debate appears to be inconsistent with the current goal of the White House, which is to fracture the monolithic power of the NRA. The common sense connection between hunting and violence has not merely been side-stepped, but the use of firearms to hunt has the explicit imprimatur of this administration. Although there is clearly a concerted effort to protect hunting from proposed gun control laws, the subject needs to be examined for its connection to the government’s role as both beneficiary and motivator of the use of firearms.
In a New York Times op-ed, Selling a New Generation on Guns, the author, Mike McIntire, stated that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) financed a study to explore attitudes toward guns in order to counteract the trend of declining hunter recruitment. Strategies were suggested for generating a greater acceptance of guns among children. As the question of why a government entity would have a strong interest in promoting firearms use among children was left unanswered, we would like to fill that gap. Not surprisingly, the reason is financial.
Mandated by the Pittman-Robertson (P-R) Act of 1937, an excise tax was placed on firearms and ammunition. The firearms and ammunition excise tax (FAET) is collected by the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Bureau (TTB) within the US Department of Treasury. The tax is then turned over to the FWS. Eleven percent is retained by the FWS to cover administrative expenses. The rest is apportioned to all 50 states using a formula based on each state’s hunting license sales and state size. The P-R Act prohibited the taxes from being used for any purpose other than to generate more hunting and shooting opportunities, i.e., more use of firearms and ammunition. A galling aspect of this Act is that, in order to receive their federal share, states must match those funds with 25% from state coffers. Those who celebrate the P-R Act claim that matching funds can come from hunting license sales, but left unsaid is that they can also come from the general fund of the state.
To illustrate how aberrant the P-R excise tax is, let’s compare excise taxes collected on two other well-known products: alcohol and tobacco. Excise taxes on those products may be used for a variety of societal needs: education, health, housing, etc.
If the same government structure and financial mechanism that applies to firearms applied as well to alcohol and tobacco, the following would exist:
There would be two government agencies solely dedicated to the respective sale and use of alcohol and tobacco. They would collect excise taxes for the purpose of creating drinking and smoking opportunities, and pay their employees based on the number of people they motivate to drink and smoke.
They would not share their funds with the public, even with the direct or indirect victims of alcohol or tobacco.
Would we tolerate such government agencies? Not likely. Yet, that is precisely how the FWS and state bureaus of wildlife operate. The use to which the weapons and ammunition are put is irrelevant to the destination of the FAET. That means that firearms and ammunition used in drug-related or other crimes aid hunting and wildlife manipulation for hunting. The massacres at Jonesboro, Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, and thousands of individual murders in the urban areas of our country have, in fact, benefited wildlife management agencies. How can murder with a firearm and ammunition whose excise taxes pay only for wildlife management be justified? Are the victims merely “collateral damage”?
The FWS and the firearms industry are focused on youth hunting. Their studies have concluded that placing firearms in the hands of children will hook them on using weapons, thus ensuring sales well into the future. Mr. McIntire’s op-ed brought to light a suggested strategy for motivating disinclined children to hunt: “peer ambassadors.” In the 1990s, when the drop in recruitment of young people into the “shooting sports” became worrisome to the firearms industry and wildlife managers, hunters used another recruitment tactic that they called the “buddy program.” The industry had determined that the decline of hunting (use of firearms) was partially attributable to a rise in the number of families headed by single moms. Through hunting publications, hunters were encouraged to befriend these women in order to take their kids hunting.
While hunting is touted as a clean-cut pastime that allows rural traditions to be passed from generation to generation, it is actually quite an intimidating experience for those who encounter hunters on their property, have had property damaged, pets and livestock killed, and their children frightened. Rural citizens who wish to keep hunters off their property, or keep them from shooting near their property, are often harassed, abused, and ignored by hunters, while law enforcement officers and local judges too often back up the hunters. In particular, women living alone have been forced to pay fines, and spend time in jail and courts, having been charged with “Hunter Harassment.” Hunter Harassment laws, instigated by the NRA and others, now exist in every state, although they arguably violate the First Amendment.
Those who depend on the sale of firearms and their use are desperate to recruit children into the “shooting sports” to ensure profits and excise taxes well into the future. That is being done although studies have shown that for some there is but a fine line between killing animals and killing people, a line that can and has been crossed.
Recently, it was reported that a SEAL sniper attributed his indifference to killing people to having hunted in his youth. That came to light when he himself was killed by someone with a hunting background. Such news reports indicate and dictate that hunting has to become a part of the debate.
There are many responsible citizens, gun owners and voters among them, who are disgusted with the arrogant perspective that the recreational killing of animals is considered to be a justification for the purchase of firearms and ammunition.
One need not play video games to learn violence. Lessons in violence can be learned as readily from killing animals in the woods. Recently, a live squirrel shooting contest was sponsored by the fire department of Holley, NY. Their flier showed an adorable squirrel with cross-hairs covering his little face. The flier announced that the children who killed the fattest squirrels would win firearms, including a semi-automatic weapon. Who benefits? The firearms industry and wildlife management agencies. Who loses? The children who are taught that killing other living creatures can be fun. In the end, the society loses.
It is simply prudent to keep firearms out of the hands of some adults and certainly out of the hands of all children.
Anne Muller, President
Wildlife Watch Inc.
Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting is a division of Wildlife Watch.