Surge in ammo, gun sales means more dollars for wildlife habitat

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 26, 2014 - 4:55 PM

Tax revenue windfall must be spent on wildlife projects and hunter education.

The nationwide spending spree on guns and ammunition continues.

And that means the flow of dollars to Minnesota and other states from the federal excise tax on guns, ammo and archery equipment has turned into a flood.

This year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is expected to receive a record $23 million — nearly quadruple the amount it received only 10 years ago. Those dollars must be spent on wildlife projects and hunter education.

Nationally, the surge in gun and ammo sales — attributed primarily by concerns over gun-control efforts under the Obama administration — produced record excise tax revenues of $813 million last year, more than double the amount raised only two years earlier. The money is apportioned to states based on their size and number of hunters. Last year, only six states got more funds than Minnesota: Alaska, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

“It’s a huge boon to wildlife programs,” said Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife division director.

Mike Bazinet, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said there’s been a decadelong increase in interest in shooting sports that has spiked the past five years. More women are buying guns, he said; hunter numbers also are up slightly and manufacturers have introduced new guns.

But the biggest reason for the surge in sales, many believe, was a backlash over gun-control proposals by the federal government that increased after Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and followed the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.

“There’s no question people were concerned there were going to be new federal laws passed possibly to restrict their access to firearms or ammunition,” Bazinet said. “As a result, they went out and purchased additional firearms and ammunition.”

The tax revenue increases are sizable:

• The excise tax collected on pistols and revolvers jumped from $74 million in 2007 to $223 million last year.

• The tax from other firearms increased from $116 million in 2007 to $286 million last year.

• And the tax revenue from shells and cartridges increased from $98 million in 2007 to $252 million.

Gun owners cleaned out ammunition dealers, sparking shortages.

“The shortages are easing nationwide,” Bazinet said. “Things are mostly back to normal.”

What to do with the money?

The taxes have been collected since 1938 under the Pittman-Robertson Act, named for its congressional authors. Handguns are taxed 10 percent and other firearms, including rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders, are taxed 11 percent. Ammunition and archery equipment also are taxed 11 percent. The manufacturers pay that tax upfront, but generally pass it on to consumers.

With last year’s federal dollars, the DNR spend $7.5 million on wildlife habitat management, $2 million on wildlife population management, $1.6 million on wildlife land acquisition and $1.5 million on maintenance of hunter trails, access roads and water access.

For Minnesota officials, the question now is what to do with the extra money that has arrived and is yet to come.

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