Firearms and Conservation

With Dr. John Casellas Connors (Texas A&M Geography), RESL is engaged in research on the under-appreciated linkages between firearms and conservation policy in the United States. In a peculiarity of U.S. history and policy, it turns out that a New Deal-era law – the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937– links conservation policy to gun policy by way of a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition sales that funds state-level wildlife management. Understanding this underinvestigated linkage is important for at least three reasons.

First, the linkage between firearms and conservation connects the problems of gun violence to environmental policy in ways that raise important moral and ethical questions.

Second, these old fiscal linkages between the firearms industry and conservation policy are important for understanding present-day political coalitions as they related to conservation and environmental protection in the United States – an area of environmental policy that remains comparatively bi-partisan. The case of Pittman-Robertson, in other words, offers lessons in how legal-institutional structure shapes political coalitions in the context of environmental policymaking, with lessons to be learned for other substantive domains as well.

Third, the historical linkages between firearms and conservation in the U.S. offer broader lessons about how institutional structures shape politics and policymaking, including the ways that such linkages reshape the identity, ideology, and culture of politicians, bureaucrats, and citizens. Paying a tax to support hunting and conservation seems to offer a sheen of virtuousness to the firearms industry, for example, cultivates a conservation ethic in at least some gun users, and seems to reorient at least some environmental bureaucrats towards an industry and practice – gun manufacturing and use – they might not otherwise consider in their work. Understanding these dynamics holds broader lessons for understanding the ways that law and institutions not only structure practices, but reshape sensibilities and subjectivities, with downstream political-organizational consequences.

(A) Relative shares of revenue for state wildlife agencies from all four major funding streams: guns and ammunition excise taxes (Pittman-Robertson), fishing equipment excise taxes (Dingell-Johnson), hunting license sales, and fishing license sales. Revenue shares exclude any state-level appropriations to wildlife agencies. (B) Hunting license and fishing license holders as a fraction of US population. (C) Total revenue generated for state wildlife agencies through excise taxes on fishing and boating equipment (Dingell-Johnson) and firearms and ammunition (Pittman-Robertson).

Related Scholarship


Casellas Connors, John P., Elizabeth A. Carlino, and Christopher M. Rea. “The Eco-munitionary Subject: Conservation with and of firearms.” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space.


Casellas Connors, John P. and Christopher M. Rea. “Violent Entanglements: The Pittman-Robertson Act, Firearms, and the Funding of Conservation.” Conservation and Society 20(1), 24-35.

Press coverage:

The New Lede, March 1, 2023

New York Times, August 26, 2022

Environmental Health News, May 31, 2022

The Globe and Mail, May 29, 2022