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. Efforts to restrict the sportsmen’s community from recruiting and activating the next generation of hunters and recreational shooters will have far-reaching consequences on the very funding structure that underwrites the conservation of California’s wildlife and their habitats.
- On September 22, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and hunting coalition partners and reversed the lower courts denial of a preliminary injunction in the ongoing federal lawsuit over California’s Youth Firearm Marketing Law.
- AB 2571, which was passed by the legislature in 2022, prohibits the “marketing” of firearms to minors, but the broadly written language casts a wide net over many communications related to lawful youth hunting and recreational shooting. Violations of the law would impose fines of $25,000 per impression or occurrence of prohibited communication.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Safari Club International and Sportsmen’s Alliance previously filed a motion for preliminary injunction in federal district court, however the injunction to protect the free speech rights of hunting, recreational shooting, and conservation organizations was denied. CSF and partner organizations immediately appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and partner organizations on September 22 and reversed and remanded the lower court’s denial of a preliminary injunction in the federal litigation over California’s Assembly Bill 2571 (AB 2571). To block the implementation of AB 2571 and to protect the free speech rights of hunting, recreational shooting and conservation organizations in California, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Safari Club International had previously filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. This request was part of the coalition’s ongoing lawsuit to strike down AB 2571 in its entirety for violating 1st, 5th, and 14th amendment rights. After the request for an injunction was denied, CSF and partners immediately appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals, who reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded it back for further proceedings.
Purported as a bill to prohibit advertising firearms to minors, the broadly written language of AB 2571, which was signed into law by Governor Newsom in 2022, casts a wide net over communications that promote the use of firearms by a member of the “firearm industry.” The bill broadly defines “firearm industry” to include organizations formed for the purpose of “… promoting, encouraging, or advocating for the purchase, use, or ownership of firearm-related products”, encompassing many hunting and conservation organizations that routinely communicate on firearm-related topics. Since the law has taken effect, many organizations have ceased communications that showcase or illustrate the lawful use of firearms by youth, including social media, magazine articles, videos, and more, because of uncertainty over the law and the steep $25,000 fine, per occurrence, of any of these prohibited communications that may portray firearms as “attractive to minors”.
In addition to the free speech violations of AB 2571, the sportsmen’s community is also rightly concerned about the impact these restrictions will have on Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) efforts. Hunting participation in California has been declining over the last several decades, which has resulted in decreased funding for conservation and wildlife management efforts through 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 through license and tags sales, and also through an excise tax paid on firearm and ammunition purchases under the Pittman-Robertson Act. To combat these declining numbers, the state wildlife agency, conservation organizations, and hunting organizations have all invested heavily in R3 efforts and continue to identify strategies to increase participation in outdoor activities. AB 2571 threatens these efforts by significantly impacting the sporting-conservation community’s ability to effectively recruit and educate the next generation of sportsmen and women, thereby also threatening the funding structure that underwrites the conservation of California’s wildlife and their habitats.
Following the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the request for a preliminary injunction will now be reconsidered by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. CSF will continue to provide updates on this federal litigation and other issues impacting outdoor heritage and conservation.