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Lead Ban Chronicles – The Public Relations of the Lead Ammo Debate

November 27, 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the lead ammunition issue.  My posts were becoming pretty redundant, to be honest, and there really hasn’t been much new scientific information on the topic.

That doesn’t mean the conversation has stopped elsewhere.  It is, in fact, going full bore across the country, in Canada, and to some extent, in Great Britain (although that one seems to have shifted to a back burner since the British Secretary of State for the Environment nixed the lead ammo ban in 2016).

During a “conversation” on a Facebook page I follow, the topic of lead ammunition came up and I was subjected to a serious flashback to the mid-2000s.  After almost a decade of conversation, it was a little bit disheartening how little things have changed.  Rather than repeat the whole thing (sad as it was), one of the things that seemed to rise to the top of the whole thing was the idea that the lead ban proponents are fighting nothing more than a PR battle… and that because it’s, “just a PR battle,” it’s not important to take any action as hunters to address it.

It occurred to me that most hunters aren’t really tuned in to this issue, outside of their own spheres of daily experience.  That’s not a knock, by the way, just that most folks don’t keep a running news feed of international news related to lead ammunition.  I do, though, and what I’m seeing in article after article is a little disconcerting.  I thought maybe I’d share a few of these articles from the past year, in the interest of showing folks what non-hunters are seeing.

That’s just a small sampling of the articles that come through my news feed at a frighteningly regular pace.  You can do your own Google search if you want to see more.  They aren’t hard to find, and are almost unanimously damning of hunters.

I used to try to respond to these pieces with some facts and logic, such as the fact that, for the most part, bald eagle populations are growing steadily despite some individual cases of lead poisoning, but I was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number and consistent messaging of these pieces.  I was also hit, frequently, with the suggestion that it doesn’t matter if it’s one bird or one thousand, the fact that the deaths are “preventable” proves that hunters don’t really care about anything except killing.  The thing is, no matter how important I thought it was to share the facts… no matter how much I thought, “if people just knew the truth, the whole lead ban impetus would dissolve in its own juices,”… the reality is that people generally don’t seem to want to hear it.

Hell, half the time I don’t even bother to read the articles any more.  They essentially say the same things, with a well-honed set of talking points straight from the folks at Center for Biological Diversity and HSUS.

“An eagle died because of lead bullets!  Hunters refuse to change their practices.”

That’s what gets their attention.  Beyond the headline and the lede, it seems like the majority of people completely lose their reading comprehension skills.  Moreover, they seem to lose the interest in reading the whole story, so even when it does take the deeper look at the issue and possible solutions, most people (on both sides) seem to miss that.

The point is, this whole thing is absolutely a contest of public relations, and hunters are not just losing… we’re getting our asses kicked because, as far as the general public can tell, we’re not even trying.  If it weren’t for the strength of the current, Conservative lock in DC and many states, I have no doubt that lead ammo would quickly become a thing of the past.  But political pendulums swing widely and regularly… this is not a done deal.

That’s frustrating, of course.  To know you’re in the right… to recognize that science is on your side (essentially), yet to see the public opinion turning against you, that’s hard to accept.  But that’s what’s happening, because that’s how propaganda works.  It leverages the grain of truth, that lead ammo is killing birds, and presents it as a crisis.  It takes the increasingly anachronistic practice of hunting, and uses the ignorance of the non-hunting public and the persistent, negative stereotypes of hunters to paint a picture that fact and logic simply can’t erase.

What’s to be done?  Why am I even bothering to write this?

I don’t think there’s a one-step solution.  I’m not even sure there is a solution, because while the momentum is slow, I’m pretty sure we’re heading toward a nationwide ban on lead ammunition.  However, here’s what I do know.

In Arizona, the voluntary programs in the Kaibab to get deer hunters to either switch ammo or remove carcasses worked reasonably well.  Because of that success, when Utah was faced with the prospect of a lead ban or a voluntary solution, they went with the voluntary program instead of a California-styled ban.  To be honest, there were incentives (coupons for lead-free ammo and prizes for packing out gut piles), but hunters complied with the program and it made a difference. If hunters across the country would take some similar actions, the number of lead poisoned birds would decline… and with it the number of headlines, like those I listed above, would drop.

It doesn’t mean abandoning your favorite lead bullet.  Just do something to keep the birds from getting at the carcass.  This is a point that keeps getting lost in this whole, damned discussion.  Getting rid of lead ammo is only one option, but it’s not the only one.  There are other things we can do.

Or, do nothing.  Jump up and down and decry the whole thing as a plot by anti-hunters and anti-gun forces to impede our sport.  That’s what the majority of hunters in California did from 2005 until the Ridley-Tree act passed in 2008.  Rather than taking an active and constructive role in the discussion, the general approach was to either ignore the whole thing, or to argue that the whole condor “thing” was made up by anti-hunters… an argument that comes across sounding like the paranoid rants of the gun nut crowd.  In the end, the ban passed with all its faults intact… and was made even more restrictive in 2013, despite a total lack of evidence that the additional regulations would make any positive difference in the populations of condors or other raptors.

Here’s a tip, hunters.  Playing the abused victim doesn’t fly with the non-hunting public… even if it’s true.  We do not control the narrative here.  It’s not right.  It’s not fair.  But it’s the truth.

None of this is to say we should ditch the fact-based arguments.  Stick tight to the facts that show that populations aren’t endangered by the continued use of lead, or the fact that lead-free options are still practically limited for many hunters.  But, like it or not, the only real option we have left is to find ways to mitigate the impacts of lead ammo on non-target species.  If voluntary actions can reduce the incidence of lead poisoning, then maybe the narrative will begin to shift.

I can’t even remember the first time I wrote this, but I’ll repeat it now.  If we don’t change ourselves, change is going to be forced down our throats.

 

 

 

 

 

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