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Run on guns boosts wildlife fund 

Gun paranoia creates collateral donage

Gun sales have surged in the past six months. Some attribute the increase to worries Barack Obama will push through tougher gun laws. Others say it’s merely one part of a broader trend toward survivalist tendencies and that has arisen with the souring of the economy.

Regardless, for those worried about the run on guns, there’s another side: It turns out the increased production of guns and ammunition is sending more money into state wildlife lands.

Makers of firearms and ammunition pay a federal excise tax that amounts to 11 percent tax on long guns and 10 percent on handguns. (The tax is also paid on optical gear such as gun scopes, and even camouflage clothing.)

According to a federal report, in the last three months of 2008, the amount of money paid into the fund spiked 31 percent, as compared to the year before. Nearly all of the increase was due to increased handgun production. State and federal background checks—required to purchase firearms—have seen similar increases and gun manufacturers have posted record sales.

It’s not just manufacturers seeing the increases. A representative of Central Coast Gun Shows, which puts on shows from Fresno to Paso Robles, said interest in the shows is higher than anything in the past 23 years. She said attendance at a recent show in Paso Robles was double past figures.

The excise tax money gets collected by the federal government and then distributed to state fish and wildlife departments.

Blaine Nickens, staff services manager in the grants management branch for the California Department of Fish and Game, said excise tax meant about $8.1 million in federal dollars last year. The bulk of the money gets spent on the maintenance and development of the state’s wildlife areas.

Locally, the nearest beneficiaries of the fund are in the San Joaquin Valley. The Mendota and Los Banos Wildlife Areas have received money. Those areas are hunting areas, but are also widely used by non-hunters.

Portions of the money also get spent on hunter education efforts and wildlife studies and inventories—the sort of studies that help the department decide game limits.

“It goes toward helping unit biologists and statewide planners determine the health and status of game populations,” Nickens said. “That also provides information to the commission as to setting seasons and bag limits for these different game animals.”

California, however, doesn’t get as large a share of the gun money as other states. States must provide a 25 percent match for the money and Nickens said the state could take in more federal money if it offered more of a match. Also, the allocations are based on a calculation using the amount of land available in a state and hunting license sales. License sales in California have been declining in recent years.

The gun sales have risen in the wake of National Rifle Association ads warning that Obama may seek significant tax increases on ammunition. A press release sent by National Shooting Sports Foundation places the cause squarely on Obama’s election.

It may take a while for the state to see a benefit from the surge.
   The most recent allocation comes from the federal fiscal year, which ended in September. It still shows a 9 percent increase from the previous year, but doesn’t represent the more recent increases.

Managing Editor Patrick Howe can be reached at phowe@newtimesslo.com.

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