Recreational Shooters May Soon Have Access to New Public Shooting Ranges

What has historically been known as a tax-based funding source for wildlife conservation, may soon be used more freely to build public shooting ranges and improve existing ones.

Recreational Shooters May Soon Have Access to New Public Shooting Ranges

Photo: Clark County Shooting Complex in Las Vegas, Nevada

Known as the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act of 2019 (H.R. 788), a bipartisan bill proposes changes to the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, which would remove restrictions on how state agencies can invest in shooting ranges. 

This legislation, if passed, demonstrates a degree of nimbleness not often seen in the halls of Congress. The bill would allow for adaptions to meet changing gun-owner demographics. As hunter numbers decline, it’s the recreational shooter and non-hunting gun owners who largely finance wildlife conservation through a federal excise tax levied on the sales of firearms and ammunition.  Of firearms sales dollars, 20 percent comes from hunter purchases, while the remaining 80 percent comes from recreational shooting, home and self-defense, gun collectors and work-related purchases, according to a 2017 study by the market research firm Southwick Associates.

Americans who purchase firearms, ammunition and archery equipment rarely see a paper trail of the contributions they make to benefit wildlife — there is no excise-tax item line on receipts from firearm purchases, for instance. But gun manufacturers who cut the checks to Uncle Sam know well the investment the firearms community makes. In 2017 alone, Vista Outdoor paid $87 million into the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program. Vista Outdoor firearm and archery brands include Federal Premium, CCI, Speer, Savage, Stevens, Gold Tip and Bee Stinger. In recent years, the company has been the largest contributor to the industry-wide conservation effort.

“This is crucial legislation that would provide state fish and game agencies more flexibility to use Pittman-Robertson excise taxes dollars raised from the sale of firearms and ammunition to enhance existing public shooting ranges and to build new ones to meet the growing need for additional places for target shooters to participate in their sport,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel.

The bill, authored by Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah), would increase the cap of federal funds accrued for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges from 75 to 90 percent. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), this means states could begin work on range facilities with 10 percent matching funds, instead of the current 25 percent. It would also enable excise funds to be made available and accrue for five years for land acquisition or range construction.

More shooting ranges may become increasingly essential to young adults new to hunting. As hunting trend articles and state-agency programs have suggested, more suburban, young adults are taking an interest in hunting (albeit not enough to influence the overall decline in hunter participation). Still, in just the last two months, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have published articles covering such trends. As such, more suburban and urban shooting ranges will be well suited to benefit hunters and recreational shooters who don’t have access to the open space rural gun owners enjoy.

“Public shooting ranges provide hunters a place to sight in rifles and shotguns before hunting seasons, for people to take firearm safety and hunter education courses and, for recreational target shooters to enjoy their sport,” said Keane.

The bill also urges the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to cooperate with state and local authorities and other entities to carry out waste removal and other activities on any federal land used as a public target range. These collaborate efforts are meant to ensure shooting ranges are well maintained and welcoming. 

The legislation was introduced in previous Congressional sessions, but was never advanced to the president. Since 1937, almost $12.1 billion in excise tax has been raised for wildlife conservation through the sale of firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.

If you’d like to locate existing shooting ranges in your area or find out which ranges offer services such as RV sites, hunter education, rentals or youth programs, go to the NSSF’s


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