The firearms and ammunition industry is once again returning to normal after a busy and chaotic 2013. Manufacturers found themselves pressed by sky-high demand as customers stocked up on guns and ammo, causing visible shortages in items such as AR-15-style rifles and .22 LR ammo. According to statistics from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), background checks in 2013 rose to a record 14.8 million as compared to 5.64 million in 2011.
While last year may have been immensely profitable for the industry, it was also a shot in the arm for critical conservation projects across the country. That came in form of an apportionment of $760.9 million from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program, which distributes funds to state wildlife agencies collected from gun and ammo excise taxes. This year’s payout is the highest in the program’s history. Combined with excise taxes on boats and fishing equipment, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) distributed nearly $1.1 billion earlier this year.
“Anyone who enjoys our nation’s outdoor heritage should thank hunters, anglers, recreational boaters and target shooters,” said USFWS director Dan Ashe in a press release. “Through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, these individuals have created a 75-year legacy for conservation of critical wildlife habitat and improved access to the outdoors for everyone.”
Fueled by the soaring sales of firearms and ammunition, many states reported receiving significantly more funds this year than in the recent past. States where sales were especially high, like Texas and Alaska, received an astounding $51,562,000 and $48,798,100, respectively. The increase in funding was welcome news to many state agencies, which say that the money will be used for wildlife research, land projects, habitat conservation, and hunter education. In many states, such as North Carolina, the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program is a salve for deep cuts in the state budget. Officials with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission shared that the boost will allow the agency to tackle new projects like laying down roads and markers across the two million acres it manages.
“A lot of this work we haven’t been able to do because of a lack of funds,” the commission’s head of lands management, Erik Christofferson, told the News & Observer. “We’ve been able to put this money back on the ground for the public to enjoy.”
North Carolina received over $29 million from the USFWS, about $20 million of which was from gun and ammo taxes.
The Pittman-Robertson taxes add about 10 percent to the cost of a handgun and 11 percent to other firearms and ammunition, but many gun owners highly support the program. Christofferson says a large portion of the funds will be used to build new shooting ranges across the state to accommodate for the increased demand, but there are benefits to residents who are not hunters or target shooters too. In fact, just about everyone who uses state game lands stands to benefit.
However, state officials are now concerned that with the sales boom over, funds will drop for next year. NSSF President and CEO Steve Sanetti said that the industry has returned more or less to normal.
“Those who are hostile to firearms ownership are trying to suggest sales are off in 2014 because people are no longer interested in owning guns, which is contradicted when you consider sales have risen for ten years, that last year was the highest year ever and that studies show increases in first-time gun owners and women buying guns,” he stated in a press release last month.
“The sky certainly is not falling,” Sanetti added. “To me, firearm sales data through the first seven months is saying our industry is experiencing a ‘new normal.’ Like a rocket ship, we’ve returned to Earth, but we haven’t gone back in time. With 2014 on track to be one of the highest sales years in a decade, I call that a sign of a healthy industry serving a passionate, growing customer base.”
Still, states like North Carolina state they will make the best of the funds they received this year. You can see the full list of 2014 state funding here.