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State wildlife agencies stand to benefit from increased gun, ammo sales

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Panic buying of firearms and ammunition has store shelves looking pretty bare nowadays.

At the same time, though, it has wildlife administrators wondering how to spend the windfall of federal dollars associated with all those purchases.

Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, said the state stands to gain as much as $1.4 million in Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds, all of it related to the recent run on guns and ammo.

"It's amazing, the buying that's going on," Taylor said. "And 11 percent of every one of those sales goes into the Wildlife Restoration kitty and gets reimbursed to the state."

Even before recreational shooters began buying up AR-15s and their look-alikes, as well as the .223-caliber ammunition they fire, Taylor said states were already starting to receive financial windfalls from similar runs on handguns and ammunition dating back to the early days of the Obama administration.

"We're figuring out how to spend some of that money right now," he said. "But the increases now amount to only a few percent. We think the increases from the current round of buying will be close to 20 percent."

The money will come from an 11 percent excise tax paid by firearm and ammunition manufacturers on every gun, cartridge or shell sold. The tax money goes to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in turn distributes it to state wildlife agencies for use in wildlife restoration programs.

By all accounts, sales of semi-automatic firearms on the federal government's proposed ban list have triggered an unprecedented sales boom, and with it a sharp increase in excise tax receipts.

Charleston's Cabela's store reportedly sold three months' worth of ammunition in the six days after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a gun-control bill aimed at banning "military-style" semiautomatics. Gun dealers in the Washington, D.C., area reportedly are asking for - and getting - $1,000 apiece for 1,000-round case lots of .223-caliber ammo, more than three times what they were getting beforehand.

"And I've heard that [AR-15 look-alike] Bushmasters are selling for $3,000 each," Taylor said. "That's about three times what they were selling for before [the bill was introduced]."

Taylor said the Wildlife Restoration windfall from the current buying spree would get distributed to the DNR about two years from now.

"We're already looking at things we can do with it," he said. "The only downside is we have to match that federal money 25 cents on the dollar. Our only source of income is from hunting-license sales, and we don't look for that to increase. We're going to have to come up with that matching money before we can take advantage of the increase in Wildlife Restoration money."

One potential use, Taylor added, would be to purchase more public-hunting land. Another would be to come up with new wildlife-restoration programs.

"But there's a problem with creating new programs," he explained. "We have to have enough staff to dedicate to any new programs we create. So far we haven't come up with any specific programs to create or increase."

Taylor called the agency's planning for the windfall "a work in progress."

"We aren't going on hard data so far, we're going on assumptions [of how much the revenue increase would be]," he said.

"We see the same things in the newspaper that everyone else does, and we're making projections based on that. The bottom line is that we have to come up with innovative ways to spend this increase in federal money."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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