September 6, 2022

California Firearm and Ammunition Tax Bill Fails As Legislative Session Adjourns

Contact: Keely Hopkins, Manager, Pacific States & Firearm Policy

Why It Matters: California’s law-abiding hunters and shooters have long played a vital role in funding conservation and wildlife management efforts throughout the state. Under the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), a unique “user pays — public benefits” structure, California’s sportsmen and women generate tens of millions of dollars each year for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. These funds are generated through license sales and an 11% federal excise tax on sporting-related goods, including firearms and ammunition. Decreased firearm and ammunition purchases that result from additional taxes and costs would have a negative impact on conservation funding in the state.  

The Firearm and Ammunition Tax Bill has once again been defeated with the adjournment of the California legislative session on August 31. After a rollercoaster of procedural maneuvers and last minute amendments, prospective firearm purchasers in California can breath a sigh of relief… at least when it comes to Assembly Bill 1227. Despite their efforts to garner additional votes by amending the legislation to include an exemption for certain long gun purchases by individuals with a valid hunting license, the proposal to impose a 10-11% tax on firearm and ammunition sales failed to advance before sine die.

The Firearm and Ammunition Tax Bill, originally AB 1223, was introduced during the 2021 legislative session and was allegedly designed to “mirror” the federal excise tax paid by sportsmen and women to fund conservation efforts via the Pittman-Robertson Act. The revenue in this case, however, would not be used to fund conservation and would instead go to a program that aids the effects of illegal criminal activity. This bill was defeated on the floor during the 2021 session, but proponents of the bill used procedural maneuvers to add an “urgency clause” to the legislation, which exempted the bill from regular deadlines and rules, and allowed it to be to be carried over to the 2022 session. Having not received a floor vote by the January 31, 2022 deadline, the proposal should have been defeated for the biennial session, yet proponents once again maneuvered their proposal forward by commandeering AB 1227 through a “gut and amend” tactic.

Each year, California’s sportsmen and women contribute tens of millions of dollars to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, providing vital revenue to help carry out their mission of managing the state’s diverse fish and wildlife, and the habitats upon which they depend. These funds are generated through fishing and hunting license sales, and also through the purchase of sporting-related goods. Under the Pittman-Robertson Act, California’s hunters and recreational shooters pay a 10-11% excise tax on all firearm and ammunition purchases, which in turn funds a large portion of the state’s wildlife management, conservation, and research efforts. AB 1227, if passed, would have placed an additional tax on top of the existing taxes, thereby driving up the costs of these goods, reducing their sales, and in turn, reducing the conservation funding from which all California residents enjoy.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation opposed the proposed tax since its introduction, testifying before both Assembly committees and joining coalition partners in submitting several opposition letters. Unfortunately, several bills impacting recreational shooting and the shooting sports did pass the legislature this year, including AB 2571, that restricts the promotion of firearms to minors in California. CSF has since joined several partners organizations in a legal challenge against the new law and will continue to keep you updated on the status of the lawsuit.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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