GOA SPECIAL REPORT: Your right to self-defense is taxed, and you probably don’t even realize it
Do you know that each and every time you buy a new firearm or factory produced ammunition you are paying a hidden tax that is as high as 11 percent?
Under provisions of the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R), handguns are taxed at the confiscatory rate of 10 percent and ammunition, rifles and shotguns are taxed at an even more outrageous 11 percent. Enacted in 1937, P-R was originally levied at a rate of 11 percent on rifles, shotguns and all types of ammunition and in 1970, handguns were added and taxed at 10 percent. Many gun owners are unaware they are even paying this tax because it is collected by manufacturers, based on the wholesale price of a firearm or ammunition. Don’t be fooled, it is built into the price you pay for a new firearm or ammunition; the manufacturers are not paying the gun tax, you are.
Unlike state or local sales taxes, the P-R Federal Gun Tax does not show up on the sales receipt that you receive from your local dealer — even though you are paying it. And that’s why it’s really a hidden tax.
Supporters of these taxes claim the money is used for wildlife conservation and hunter education. A common justification for the taxes is that those who benefit from the resource are happy to fund efforts to protect and conserve the resources. Outdoor Life Magazine characterizes these taxes as a “user-pay, user-benefit funding mechanism.”
Sadly, after 82 years, this is not the case. Not all users of guns and ammunition are hunters and not all gun owners want to financially support conservation or mandatory hunter education programs that in some cases carry an anti-gun message. If wildlife conservation and hunter education results in a gun tax, then I have no interest in these programs. I do, however, care about our environment, which is why I voluntarily recycle paper, plastic, aluminum and cardboard.
There are dozens of handguns that are specifically designed for — and overwhelmingly used for — concealed carry and self-defense. These pistols range in retail price from well under $300 for a SCCY CPX and a high of almost $3700 for a Wilson Combat CQB — with many quality self-defense guns selling at retail prices well under $1000 such as a Charter Arms Mag Pug with an MSRP of $410.20 for the double action only model which is very well-suited for personal self-defense. These are most certainly not hunting handguns even by using an overly broad definition of a “hunting handgun”!
What this means is that a single mother, on a limited budget who wants to purchase an inexpensive self-defense gun is being forced to spend an extra $20-$30 to subsidize sport hunting and wildlife conservation. Activities which she will probably not participate in and activities for which an SCCY CPX (or similar handgun) are pretty much useless. Furthermore, that extra $30 could arguably be put to better use buying a few boxes of practice ammunition — which, under current law will be taxed at 11 percent.
A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report states that in Fiscal Year 2017, 34 percent of P-R tax revenues came from pistols and revolvers, 32 percent from other firearms, and 33 percent from ammunition.
In the Outdoor Life Magazine article referenced above, author John Haughey acknowledges that the number of hunters declined from 13.7 million in 2011 to 11.5 million in 2016 which represents a roughly 16 percent decrease in licensed hunters. Mr. Haughey goes on to say that even with the decrease, “The 11.5 million people who hunted in 2016 paid $25.6 billion to participate in their sport.”
Mr. Haughey even says that: “Despite the continued decline of hunters, there’s more P-R money than there was a generation ago. The $797.16 million allocation in 2018 is $17 million more than the previous year’s apportionment and more than twice as much as the annual allocation in 2012.”
Mr. Haughey is either unaware or is choosing to ignore the fact that about 34 percent of the collected Pittman-Robertson gun tax was paid by purchasers of handguns. Many of the most popular and reasonably priced handguns like the SCCY, which were specifically designed for self-defense, will most likely never be used for hunting, yet purchasers of these guns are paying a large percentage of the gun tax.
As noted above, a full third of the tax collected in Fiscal Year 2017 was from ammunition sales. Most hunters will rarely fire more than 50 cartridges in a season to both sight in their rifle and, then, to take wild game. Those who carry self-defense guns practice often and usually buy ammunition by the case rather than by the box. People who carry and practice with their self-defense handguns are paying roughly two-thirds of the federal gun tax and funding wildlife programs that they will probably never receive a benefit from.
What is really outrageous is that some of the Federal Gun Tax money is being used to fund state wildlife agencies that quite often oppose important pro-gun reform legislation like Constitutional Carry.
Here’s a specific example: In my home state of New Hampshire, the leadership of the Fish and Game Department (Executive Director, Glenn Normandeau and the Chief of Law Enforcement Colonel Kevin Jordan) have gone out of their way to oppose vital pro-gun reforms such as Constitutional Carry and the decriminalization of the carrying of loaded rifles and shotguns in cars. They also opposed a 2016 law that allows hunters to use sound suppressors (which will protect hunter’s hearing).
In 2002, their predecessors even opposed a modest measure which simply clarified that law-abiding New Hampshire residents may own sound suppressors. The department leaders have been admonished by Attorney General Gordon MacDonald because they are engaging in activities which are not authorized by statute. Most of New Hampshire’s Conservation Officers have been openly hostile to law-abiding citizens carrying guns. I expect public servants to remain neutral and not let their personal views influence their official acts; but what does all of this have to do with the gun tax?
In New Hampshire, the maximum fee that volunteer instructors may charge a single participant in a Hunter Education Class is $5. We have learned, through “right to know” requests, that for every volunteer hour that an instructor teaches, the Fish and Game Department receives $25.89 in Federal Gun Tax money. The aggregate is $1 million per year in federal gun tax money paid to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, an agency where the leaders have opposed even the most modest pro-gun reforms.
Those who participate in Hunter Education courses should pay a fee that realistically represents the true cost of conducting the course which includes books, assorted handouts and testing materials. Also included in the cost of a course is ammunition and demonstration firearms. Then, if the instructors wish to donate any profits derived from conducting the course to their state’s wildlife agency, that would truly be a “user-pay, user-benefit funding mechanism.” It is wrong to force gun owners who are not hunters and are not buying hunting arms, to subsidize other people’s hobbies.
No doubt, many readers are now composing emails to let me know that the law enforcement division and the salaries of those who attend legislative hearings to attack our Second Amendment Civil Rights are not funded with gun tax dollars. However, if Hunter Education is bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in Federal Gun Tax money, other department funds are freed up to pay the salaries and office expenses of those who are attacking your right to keep and bear arms. Other states would certainly have a similar arrangement.
The Connecticut Department of Natural Resources used Federal Gun tax money on a “duck banding project.” But what does “duck banding” have to do with the Second Amendment? And why are those who are purchasing self-defense firearms and ammunition funding these sorts of projects? However worthy they might be, this is most certainly not “user pay, user benefit.”
Nationally, over $700 million in gun tax money is collected and distributed to state wildlife agencies each year. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) which bills itself as the “Firearms Industry Trade Association,” says that the tax is levied on: “all commercial sales and imports whether their purpose is for shooting, hunting or personal defense and is paid by manufacturers, producers and importers.” (Emphasis added.)
The NSSF claim that their manufacturer members are paying the tax and helping to conserve wildlife is not entirely correct. The firearms and ammunition manufacturers remit the collected tax to the Federal Government. If gun and ammunition manufacturers are truly paying the tax, then firearms and ammunition which are sold to the US Government and state and local law enforcement agencies would not be sold “tax free” because the tax would not be included in the price of a gun in the first place.
Don’t be fooled, gun and ammunition manufacturers are not paying the gun tax. They are passing it along to you in the form of higher prices, and your right to self-defense is being taxed. We at GOA think that it is time for this archaic and confiscatory tax to be repealed.
Now that you understand what you are paying and how it is being used against you, you probably want to know if there is anyway to legally avoid paying the Gun Tax?
The answer is yes, in certain circumstances your new gun or ammunition might not be subject to the gun tax.
First, it is important to understand the difference between a firearm for gun control act purposes and a firearm for tax act purposes.
Under the provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68), the frame or receiver — that is, the serial numbered part — is considered a firearm. If a person purchases a stripped or even partially completed receiver instead of a fully functioning firearm, they are still required to complete a form 4473 and the licensed gun dealer must conduct a NICS check. However, that same serial numbered part — unless it is being sold as a complete, fully-functioning firearm — is not considered a firearm for tax act purposes.
Thus, if a person were to order a stripped frame or receiver and pick it up from their local gun dealer after completing the required state and federal paperwork, the receiver would be sold free of excise tax. If our hypothetical gun owner assembles his or her own firearm, no matter what the value, as long as the firearm is built for personal use, it is and will remain, tax free. This is a windfall… in the case of a match rifle, or competition pistol which can run as high as $3,700, our hypothetical gun owner can save $370. This is not small change.
Ammunition is similar. Components are not taxed, and even new pre-primed cases are sold tax free. Only completed ammunition is subject to the 11 percent excise tax. Learning to reload has several benefits in addition to tax savings.
I’m sure many GOA Members remember the ammunition and primer shortages of the mid-1990s, the ammunition shortages and price spikes between 2006-2010, and again between 2013-2016. Most reloaders were able to avoid these price spikes and shortages of factory ammunition.
Learning to reload ammunition will not only save 11 percent on each and every cartridge fired, but in the case of rifle ammunition, th
e competent reloader can usually produce a more consistent, more accurate cartridge, tailored to their specific rifle. In the case of handgun ammunition, the cost savings above and beyond the 11 percent hidden tax, is substantial.
Let’s use 9mm Luger as an example. At the time this is being written (October 2019), 9mm ammunition that is not bought in bulk costs about 21 cents per cartridge. High quality reloaded ammunition can be produced for about 13 cents per cartridge, or a cost savings of about 38 percent! Buying bulk components will further reduce the cost while, at the same time, denying anti-gun state wildlife agencies cash that can be used to promote anti-gun activism.
In the three most recent sessions of Congress, attempts have been made to increase the tax on firearms to 20 percent and increase the ammunition tax to 50 percent; the legislation would also newly tax frames and receivers. A bill was introduced in the 114th Congress to increase the gun and ammunition tax to rates as high as 50 percent and to extend the tax to frames and receivers in addition to fully functioning firearms. In the 113th Congress, a bill was sponsored that would have left the tax at the wholesale level of 10 percent and 11 percent but added a new, additional 10 percent retail tax on the sale of any concealable firearm(s).
We need to pay close attention because some within the firearms community think that it is a good idea to expand the tax to reloading components (powders and primers) and reloading equipment (presses, dies and priming tools). US Senator, Elizabeth Warren recently wrote: “It’s time for Congress to raise those rates — to 30 percent on guns and 50 percent on ammunition — both to reduce new gun and ammunition sales overall and to bring in new federal revenue that we can use for gun violence prevention and enforcement of existing gun laws.” 
And Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) has heeded Warren’s call for raising the tax by introducing H.R. 1691 which, if enacted, will increase the tax on ammunition from 11 percent to 13 percent. Rep. Hastings claims the additional funds will be used for education grants to survivors of gun violence. But, the perpetrators of the violence are not being taxed, law-abiding gun owners are. This is the same Alcee Hastings, who as a Federal Judge in the 1980s was convicted by the Senate of a “corrupt conspiracy” to extort a $150,000 bribe in a case before him.
GOA will aggressively oppose these overtly anti-gun proposals and fight for repeal of the existing tax. As long as a gun tax is in effect, anti-gun politicians will most certainly attempt to increase the amount.
Since a gun tax is already in place, and supported by some within the firearms community, fighting proposed increases and expansions of the tax to more items is difficult, but not impossible. Members of Congress have been fooled into believing that all gun buyers, dealers and manufacturers support the gun and self-defense tax. This is simply not true.
A Constitutional right that is taxed is a Constitutional right that is ultimately denied. In 1934 when the $200 transfer tax on machineguns was enacted, the tax was far more than most could afford and, in many cases, exceeded the cost of the firearm. The $200 transfer tax reduced the amount of legal sales of machineguns. The Pittman-Robertson gun and self-defense tax is just as bad, maybe even worse because as a percentage, the dollar amount of taxes rise when firearms or ammunition prices increase.
Our ultimate goal is a full repeal of this 82-year-old tax on self-defense.
Guns, Excise Taxes, Wildlife Restoration, and the National Firearms Act, March 5, 2018, Downloaded on 07/19/2019 from: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45123.pdf
 Authors note, this figure is an aggregate of gun sales, hunting clothing, accessories and ammunition.
 NH Fish and Game Commission Minutes, January 11, 2017, Legislative Positions on HB 84 and SB 12, pages 5-6, accessed on 07/19/2019: https://wildlife.state.nh.us/about/documents/comm/2017/minutes-01112017.pdf
 NH Fish and Game Commission Minutes, January 21, 2015, Legislative Position on HB 500, page 3, accessed on 07/19/2019: https://wildlife.state.nh.us/about/documents/comm/2015/minutes-01212015.pdf
Accessed 07/19/2019: https://www.nssf.org/firearms-industry-excise-tax-dollars-at-work/
NSSF FAST FACTS, PITTMAN-ROBERTSON EXCISE TAX downloaded on 07/19/2019from:
 FAET Reference Guide Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax, FAET 26 U.S.C. CHAPTER 32; 27 C.F.R. PART 53, accessed 07/19/2019: https://www.ttb.gov/firearms/reference_guide.shtml
 115th Congress. H.R. 5103
 114th Congress, H.R. 4214
 113th Congress, H.R. 793
 Accessed 10/16/2018: https://www.outdoorlife.com/changes-to-pittman-robertson-funds-are-designed-to-save-next-endangered-species-hunters
 https://medium.com/@teamwarren/protecting-our-communities-from-gun-violence-a2ebf7abd9be accessed 09/05/2019
 Accessed 07/19/2019: https://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/fawild.html
 Accessed 07/19/2019: https://www.outdoorlife.com/changes-to-pittman-robertson-funds-are-designed-to-save-next-endangered-species-hunters