Keith Stephens Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK – The passage of House Bill 1957, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, Sen. Missy Irvin and more than 60 cosponsors, early Wednesday morning and Governor Asa Hutchinson’s statement that he’ll sign the bill will save Arkansas a possible federal funding loss of nearly $18 million annually.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has received federal excise taxes from manufacturers of firearms, ammunition and archery equipment since the late 1930s. Manufacturers, states and the federal government have been partners for more than 80 years. A previous bill, Senate Bill 298, known as the Arkansas Sovereignty Act of 2021, was vetoed by the Governor because of concerns about its impact on law enforcement and its constitutional status. One unintended consequence of SB298 would have been Arkansas’s ineligibility for Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program grant funds, which help state wildlife agencies conserve wildlife and provide benefits for the public.
HB1957, a reduced version of the bill Hutchinson vetoed last week, makes federal gun restrictions enacted after 2020 and violate the constitutional right to bear arms invalid.
AGFC Director Pat Fitts says HB1957 is a good compromise that doesn’t threaten federal wildlife and sport fish funds or law enforcement protocol, yet provides protection for Second Amendment advocates.
“I am confident that legislators did not understand the ramifications of losing nearly $18 million coming to the state,” Fitts said. “I think HB1957 fixed the unintended consequences that were identified, and provided a win-win for everyone.”
In Arkansas, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program grant funds are combined with state money and go toward projects such as building and maintaining public shooting ranges, providing boater and hunter education, maintaining boat ramps, acquiring, leasing and managing wildlife management areas, renovating aging lakes and reservoirs, assisting private landowners, and funding the Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program and the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program.
The loss of funds would have jeopardized direct benefits to communities. The AGFC leases about 280,000 acres from private entities each year for public hunting and wildlife habitat. The federal portion of these lease fees is about $1.3 million. Some of the largest lease areas are Cherokee, Jim Kress, Casey Jones, Big Timber, Gum Flats, Lafayette County and Howard County wildlife management areas. Public dove hunting opportunities are provided on WMAs and leased dove fields with federal funds.
Money also has been invested into public shooting ranges such as city-owned facilities in Jonesboro and Warren, an indoor AGFC archery and BB gun range in Springdale, ranges at Rick Evans Grandview Prairie WMA, William E. Brewer Scatter Creek WMA and at Dr. James E. Moore Jr. Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower. Fitts says the Mayflower range averaged 136 patrons per day during the last year.
It would be impossible to provide the places and programs without this funding, Fitts says. He commended everyone who helped craft and sponsor this legislation.
“On behalf of the nearly 60,000 kids annually who shoot archery at school, participate on the school trap team or take hunter education, I want to thank Representative Jeff Wardlaw, Senator Missy Irvin and so many other legislators for their quick work and demonstrated leadership in preventing the potential loss of access to valuable resources and programs,” Fitts said.