Out of It on the Outdoors

Moose ponds, Beartooth Range, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Montana’s lone Congressman, Matt Rosendale, is embarrassing us once again. This time by co-sponsoring a nutty bill with extreme far-right loonies to get rid of a tiny excise tax on guns and ammo claiming you can’t tax a constitutional right to own guns. And once again he shows how completely out of touch he is with Montanans since the excise tax produces hundreds of millions of conservation dollars that directly benefit Montana’s hunters and anglers — and they are definitely not happy about his phony theatrics.

The excise tax has been in place for over a century. In 1937, the Pittmann-Robertson Act directed that revenue back to the states for habitat conservation, wildlife management, hunter and safety education, and more. Combined with a similar tax on fishing and boating equipment known as Dingell-Johnson, these tiny taxes fund a huge portion of Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ annual budget and have long been considered a vital and secure source of revenue for the agency.

It’s highly doubtful that a single Montana hunter or angler contacted Rosendale’s office to demand he remove the tax since the money comes back in improvements to our much-loved traditional pursuits. In fact, it’s far more likely he’ll be hearing from most Montanans who hunt and fish to ask why he’s backing legislation that provides a dubious “solution” in search of a non-existent problem — and puts a long-standing, tremendously successful program to maintain and improve the nation’s fish and wildlife at tremendous risk.

But of course funding Montana’s fisheries and wildlife management has nothing to do with Rosendale’s motivation for signing on to such looney-tunes legislation. Nor does “taxing a constitutional right” hold water. Had Rosendale ever bothered to actually read the U.S. Constitution, he might have noticed Sec. 8, which plainly reads: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

There is no exemption for “taxing Constitutional rights” as Rosendale claims and indeed, were that the case our right to own property should likewise not be taxed — nor anything else we need or desire to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” as guaranteed in the Constitution.

No, this is strictly very bad Theater of the Absurd in reaction to the nation’s abhorrence to the on-going mass shootings, slaughter of school children, and endless murders committed by deranged individuals in a society swamped with firearms — including those primarily adapted from military-grade weapons of war. Having no Congressional accomplishments, Rosendale has jumped in the clown car with those who seek self-recognition while making a bad situation even worse.

But consider this — The U.S. has the highest per capita gun ownership in the world, with an estimated 400 MILLION privately owned firearms in the U.S. right now. And “the state of Montana has the highest gun ownership rate, with 66.3% of adults owning a gun.” Obviously, the tiny federal excise tax on firearms is not much of a problem when 2 out of every 3 Montanans own guns.

Rosendale has “really stepped in it” this time by co-sponsoring such ridiculous and extremely unpopular legislation. Notably, not a single hunting or fishing organization has voiced support for his move. And in a state that cherishes its hunting and fishing traditions, it just shows how totally and tragically out of touch Rosendale is with Montanans’ real priorities.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.