During the administration of George W. Bush, the annual number of background checks conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or in some states, including Pennsylvania, by state law enforcement agencies, for citizens who want to buy firearms from federally licensed dealers such as Wal-Mart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dunham’s Sports and Grice Gun Shop fluctuated between 8.4 million and 12.7 million.
Major news media, most liberally biased, gave frequent coverage — signifying their shock and dismay — to the rapid and unprecedented increase of background checks during the Obama administration. In 2009, there were 14 million. In 2016 there were 27.5 million. During Barack Obama’s eight-year term, there were 157.2 million.
Most but not all background checks lead to a purchase. There are probably more than 100 million guns in private ownership and use in this country now than when Obama took office, despite his recurrent rhetoric about additional “reasonable restrictions” that should be imposed on it. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence for the claim that the gun-buying surge occurred not merely despite his rhetoric, but because of it.
Be that as it may, there is another unpublicized but important aspect to the gun-buying surge during Obama’s administration. Over the past few years, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and wildlife management agencies in all other states have been receiving larger and larger annual payments from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The money (generally referred to as P-R funds) is all tax revenue from an 11 percent federal excise tax on sales of rifles, shotguns, ammunition and archery equipment and a 10 percent federal excise tax on sales of handguns. The taxes were established by the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, passed in 1937 and amended in 1970 and 1972.
Annual P-R distributions to the Game Commission were in the $7 million to $9 million range during most of the Bush administration . They increased to $10 million in 2007 and $11.4 million in 2008. After Obama was elected they began to increase more abruptly, reflecting the surge in firearm and ammunition sales across the country, reaching $24.9 million in 2016. The P-R distributions to all states in 2016 totaled an impressive $695 million.
Obama’s efforts to thwart lawful gun ownership and use by American citizens during his eight years as president were spectacularly unsuccessful but indirectly benefited wildlife conservation in every state. That’s a win-win for law-abiding Americans who cherish liberty and the natural environment.
Phil Edmunds lives in Boalsburg.