Lead Ban Chronicles – An Update Of Sorts

August 23, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesEvery day, I am receiving one or two links in my news feeds in regards to the lead ban.  Top of the discussion right now is still AB711, and the gist of most of the articles is largely an extension of the same talking points we’ve been seeing all along.  I have seen more of the articles including comments from both sides of the discussion, and it almost looks like the journalists are actually trying to report a real story, instead of republishing press releases written by the Center for Biological Diversity, HSUS, or the NRA.  That’s something, at least.

But it’s not much.  At this point, it is still very likely that AB711 is going to pass.  It’s unlikely that the Feds are going to take any active steps toward banning lead across the U.S., and the military is still talking about finding a lead-substitute for training ammunition (most recently looking to replace the bullets in the 7.62×51 ammo with a “green” equivalent).

So, just because I’m aggravated after spending a couple of hours crafting a lengthy post to send to Huffington Post only to realize I’m saying all the same things I’ve been saying for almost five years… well, I’m just going to stick a bunch of bullet points in here and leave it at that.  If you wanna discuss, go for it.

  • AB711 is NOT a ban on all lead ammo in California, despite what Huffington Post’s “Gun Guy” has written in a poorly researched blog.  AB711 is a statewide expansion of the prohibition on hunting with lead-based ammo which is currently in place across the “historic condor range,” aka, the Condor Zone.
  • Lead ammo fragments and shot pellets are reasonably linked to the deaths of some scavenger birds, including the condor, but smoking gun proof will likely never exist because these are wild-ranging birds who eat lots of stuff.  That’s a double-edged fact.
  • There is no appreciable environmental risk from the use of lead hunting bullets or shot in the field.  In the extremely rare cases of lead leaching into ground water, the problem occurred at shooting ranges.  Most modern ranges are required to have mitigation and reclamation programs in place.
  • Lead free ammunition is still very difficult to obtain for many hunters.  Factory-loaded, lead free ammunition is not available at all for many calibers and chamberings.
  • All condor advocates are not anti-hunters.
  • Many anti-hunters vocally (and economically) support the lead ammo ban.
  • Some hunters support the lead ammo ban.

I could go on.

I probably will.

But not today.


10 Responses to “Lead Ban Chronicles – An Update Of Sorts”

  1. Joshua on August 23rd, 2013 17:06

    Great post! I only have one slight tweak to suggest:

    -Non lead ammo is still difficult to find for rifles and shotgun slugs (shotgun shot ammo. is very easy to find, and is comparable in price to lead).

    It wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the reason that non-lead shot is so easy to find: lead shot was banned for waterfowl federally. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that steel is a reasonable substitute.

    But, there is something to be said for the potential for a ban of this magnitude to encourage economies of scale in manufacturing non-lead rifles ammo. and slugs… it’s my hope, anyway.

  2. Phillip on August 23rd, 2013 20:07

    Ahh, Josh, and there you go… the danger in distilling a complex topic into bullets.

    Very true, and I should have made the distinction between lead shot and single-projectile ammunition (bullets and slugs). For the most part, lead-free shot is not difficult to find unless you’re a fan of the obscure guns (.410, 28ga, and 16ga.).

    The truth is that when lead shot was banned, the only challenge was to find something that would work as a shotgun pellet. The sizes, from #9 to buckshot were the only trick, and once that was done you had only to load the shot in one of six various gauges for the U.S. market.

    Comparably, there are hundreds of calibers, and variations of chamber size for single-projectile firearms. There are myriad variations on bullet length, weight, seating depth, and shape. And all of this was originally designed around the relatively unique properties of lead.

    Will the market drive supply if a ban is passed (especially if the ban is isolated to California)? Maybe.

    The question to me remains, why? What is the trade off? Let’s exclude the condor for a minute and think about it.across the rest of California.. besides a little self-satisfaction for the voluntary adopters, what will we get in return? What’s at stake if AB711 does not pass?

  3. JAC on August 24th, 2013 11:50

    If California goes, it seems reasonable to expect other states to follow. California is just so huge, it drives lots of markets on its own. Whether the shooting industry will follow it like the automotive industry has, is a question I concede I can’t answer. But there is a lot of evidence that as goes CA, so goes the USA.

    I think Josh has written before about the role of regulation in shaping markets. He’s right, of course. It’s axiomatic that regulation is a useful tool to drive markets. And if the biggest American market says “we’re going to need more non-lead alternatives,” it’s a safe bet he’ll have his hopes realized.

  4. Phillip on August 24th, 2013 12:39

    John, if it’s a state-by-state thing, then CA may be a harbinger, but I’m not sure it’s a slam dunk. Several states, including Arizona actually have protections written into the state constitutions that make it very difficult (at best) to change hunting regulations. It’s part of the reason that AZ has successfully fought efforts to ban lead ammo so far… not to mention that the voluntary approach has been at least as effective as CA’s regulatiory measures.

    What I do know is that in the California “Condor zone” where it is currently illegal to hunt big game and non-game with lead ammo, the condors are still turning up with lead poisoning. By some reports, the number of incidents have actually increased. Part of this is likely to be the reality that some folks simply aren’t switching… or have switched back to lead after the initial ban was passed. Whether it’s self-defined civil disobedience or the inability to find lead alternatives driving this, it clearly illustrates the inability of CA to enforce this law. However, the continued incidence of lead poisoning may also very well indicate what a lot of lead ban opponents have been saying all along… lead ammo is not the only source of lead in the food chain and banning the bullets isn’t going to save the condor.

    Arizona’s voluntary measures have significantly reduced the use of lead ammo in the primary condor habitats (along the Kaibab and Grand Canyon). In addition to convincing sportsmen to voluntarily reduce the use of lead ammo, AZ is also providing incentives to remove gut piles from the field… something that CA has not touched, either through legislation or education efforts.

    I’m not aware of the latest research, and I guess I need to look it up, but what I’d like to know is what has happened with blood-lead levels in the condors there. Has it decreased, increased, or stabilized? There should be a valuable comparison here… although I think that enforcement in the relatively small AZ condor range is higher than in CA.

    Utah is also following AZ’s example, by the way, and utilizing education and voluntary measures to reduce the use of lead as the condors expand their range into that state. It appears to be a successful campaign so far.

    So if CA passes AB711 and bans lead ammo for hunting statewide, will that initiate a national shift? I’m not so sure it will. Federal fish and wildlife authorities (USFWS, USFS, and NPS) are certainly taking the argument to heart. We’re already seeing lead alternative initiatives (mostly voluntary) in several national forests. It has also spread to some state hunting grounds, particularly those with waterways and wetlands.

    But honestly, with the exception of the condor, lead ammunition… especially lead ammo used for big game hunting… isn’t posing a threat to any species. There’s simply no justification for a large-scale ban of lead ammo. The incidental death of an occasional eagle isn’t rationale for banning lead. Other “threats” from the use of lead ammo, such as human health or environmental contamination just don’t stand up under examination. I think it would be a really hard sell in any state that doesn’t have condors or other endangered species dying from lead poisoning.

    As far as the market pressures… again… maybe. Josh and I have hashed this out before, and when it comes down to it I’m the pessimist and he’s the optimist. What I see, in the wake of a ban, is the forced retirement of a significant number of hunting firearms. The scale of producing lead-free ammo for everything that’s in use out there is too big. Manufacturers will have to draw a line out of simple pragmatism, and any caliber or chambering outside of that line will be relegated to obsolescence.

    I could be wrong. But even if I am, how long do we think it will take before the industry can fill all those cartridge boxes? Consider that Barnes has been making copper bullets for something like 40 years, and the last time I was in a gun shop in central CA (the condor zone), it was difficult to find so much as a box of 30-06 lead-free… much less something like 7mm-08, 25-06, or .257 Roberts.

    The way I see it, only through a painstakingly planned, collaborative effort between lawmakers and the ammunition industry that results in a phased approach to replace lead with non-lead is a workable solution. It would have to incorporate some sort of grandfather exceptions for certain antique or wildcat cartridges. ANd it would take a long time. Anything larger, especially on a national scale, will be sunk under the weight of its own aspirations.

  5. JAC on August 24th, 2013 14:58

    I don’t think that it matters if states fall like dominoes. I think some will follow because your view of the science is not the majority view. so far as I’ve read. But it doesn’t matter, though the regulation leading innovation and production scenario will follow more quickly if some states do enact similar bans.

    I think the market is already ahead of this issue, your trip to a gun shop in central California notwithstanding. On my desk right now are Barnes, Nosler, and GS Custom. (Seriously, they are on my desk. I really need to straighten up). I think there are at least several other manufacturers making copper or gilding metal bullets including Hornady, Winchester and maybe Remington and Federal. How many were there ten years ago? Did all these players get into the game because of the condor area ban? Beats me, but if they did, California going no-lead will be all it takes to cause that market to explode and no one should be worrying, since comparatively, California would be giving the market a giant goose..

    But I don’t think all those CNC machines were dedicated to copper because of California. I think the increasing availability of non-lead projectiles came about in response to the market for high-end bullets. My bet is that two things would follow a lead ban in even a few states.. First, a bunch of new players will enter the market and second, they and the established players will innovate both at the high and low price points.

    I’ll leave the point about the incidental eagle alone, since that would require facts which I don’t have (and don’t know where to find). And besides, I don’t want to interrupt the loose speculation I’m happily engaging in.

    Last, I don’t know which antiques and wildcats you’re worried about. Virtually all calibers have non-lead projectiles already, don’t they? Seems you are doing a little bit of the old standing athwart history, crying stop.

  6. Neil on August 24th, 2013 22:12

    Here’s a little side note on the availability issue:

    I happen to be lucky enough to live about a half hour from a store that carries about 7 varieties, one or two lead free, for my 7mm-08. Most don’t, and you won’t find even a box of the most basic Super-X at the local big box store. So a good number of folks are presumably buying such ammo mail order. Now add one of the nifty “common sense gun control laws” (please read with extreme sarcasm) currently going through legislation that require a face to face purchase for ammo. Then what do things look like?

    As far as calibers, yes, 7mm-8 has a survivable number of choices- if I can mail order- and yes, more for the .270, but there is a grand total of ONE custom maker of .300 savage in lead free, and they don’t sell it at Wal-mart or any other store I know of. .300 savage, the last I checked, isn’t exactly in the realm of the .25-35 yet. And then of course there’s the .22, for which lead free is basically a myth.

    So while I agree with the potential for greater availability you suggest, JAC, I ultimately have to side with Phillip on this. There’s a saying that one mistake in the mountains usually won’t kill you, but several might. Same with these laws pending.

    And, for the record, I shoot almost all lead-free when I hunt. I support the voluntary programs, which to my mind have a far greater chance of success in the long run. You’re converting people rather than forcing it on them from a hostile legislature. That has a whole lot more staying power.

  7. Phillip on August 25th, 2013 08:13

    John, like I said, I could be wrong about the markets.

    Barnes has been making copper ammo for something in the neighborhood of 40 years. It was a product born out of a need for the monolitic solids used by dangerous game hunters to find something that would punch end to end on a charging cape buffalo. They began their expansion into expandables in order to grow their market in the US, and because the talk about banning lead ammunition is not a new conversation…it’s not new at all. There was actually an agreement across most of the European countries to ban all lead ammunition by 2010… but the agreement dissolved. (There are some lead ammo restrictions, but the sweeping prohibition on lead bullets never happened.)

    In the US, the conversation has been going just as long, but until they could hitch their wagons to the condor and leverage the ESA (same tactic used to ban lead for waterfowl…except it was the bald eagle), they had no traction pushing this sort of regulation. There simply was no science to support a mandated change… and besides the condor, there still isn’t.

    My trip to the NorCal gunshop was merely an illustration. I’ve also tested several major online sources, including Cabelas, BassPro, and Midway only to find that ammo for many firearms isn’t even listed… while others that show up aren’t available. I know that Barnes, and now Nosler, both offer a pretty wide range of lead free projectiles… even if the manufacturers aren’t loading all of them into cartridges. Will the industry catch up? Maybe. Probably. Eventually.

    But if we set that argument aside for a moment, and come back to what I think is the crux of the discussion here… why do we “need” to ban lead ammunition in the first place? Is a lead ammo ban even necessary? If we insist on forcing the market (and the sportsmen) to change, then why?

    I can (and do) go off on all sorts of tangents when it comes to this discussion, but the bottom line for me is, “why do we need this regulation?” What problem, environmental or social, does it solve?

    If want to speculate wildly, here’s what will happen when AB711 passes in CA. The majority of hunters will grudgingly switch over the course of the 2 year grace period. In order to do so, some will have to replace their guns because it’s just too hard (or impossible) to find lead free ammo. A tiny fraction will give up the sport, because this is just one more damned thing and they’ve had enough. And a significant number of hunters, particularly landowers and private land hunters, will roll the dice and take their chances by continuing to do what they’ve always done.

    Over time, as more hunters realize that enforcement of this new law is haphazard at best (appx. 200 game wardens for the entire state of CA to enforce all of the fish and wildlife laws over 100 million acres and almost 900 miles of coastline), many will switch back… maybe carry a box of lead free into the field with them in case of a roadside check, but load the gun with lead ammo.

    This isn’t completely blind speculation, by the way. This is exactly what has happened in the condor zone today.

    The net result will be a moderate to high reduction in lead introduced into the environment and food chain by hunters. This is not a bad result… if that reduction in lead translated into healthier eco-system or healthier people.

    But I look at places like Arizona, and I think we could achieve the same result (or better) through other means… more gradual means. The stakes simply aren’t that high. There is time to do this right, if we need to do it at all.

  8. Mike C on August 25th, 2013 15:47

    It’s amazing how much effort we’re putting into the preservation of this Condor buzzard in California. The damn thing will eat anything, including used alkaline batteries.


    Years ago, BO (Before Obama) I set up a pretty decent handloading bench for myself. I handload for 16 calibers and the projectiles I stocked up on are ~98% lead. So, since I live in Norcal, right in the Condor zone, I have to plan my hunts by buying copper projectiles. This week I bought three calibers: .375H&H, .30 and .416. I won’t tell you how much I paid, save to say it was a lot.

    I find resentment festering within, concerning this darn ugly bird. If someone had had the foresight a 100 years or so ago we could have saved the passenger pigeon – at least we could eat them.

    I’ve been waiting all summer to fire my Hawken .50 muzzleloader. Can you imagine what the powers that be would do to me if a flaming patch set fire to some grass? Better wait until it rains.

    One last point: Every second winter in Zimbabwe, reaped fields are deliberately set on fire, the purpose being the resultant potash residue ready for the first rains. It seems that here in California, where the fruits and nuts congregate, we do whatever it takes to save firewood and any other dry fuel for the spectacular fires we have every year or so. Don’t understand it.

  9. JAC on August 25th, 2013 19:53

    Let’s have a bet, Phillip. We need to agree on a time period and find some quantifiable markers. The proposed statute has July 2016 as an implementation date. So, here is my proposal: I bet you a bottle of 18 year old Glenlivet, or any other $100.00 scotch, that if AB711 becomes law, by the date of implementation, there are two or more additional manufacturers selling non-lead projectiles in the US relative to today, and that issued California hunting licenses have declined by no more than two percent relative to population. I have to be correct on both prongs or the bottle is yours.

    Be sanguine. The invisible hand of the market is coming to your aid.

  10. Phillip on August 26th, 2013 05:54

    Sorry, John. No bet. I anticipate new cartridge manufacturers every day. They come and go. In fact, the converse of your projection is that we’ll lose more than two manufacturers by July 2016. It’s not the number of folks making ammo. It’s the variety they’re making. And that’s where I believe the market will lag significantly behind the 2016 deadline.

    As far as hunting licenses, despite the current hiccup, I think the odds are against you, but it’s not going to be AB711 that drives a noticeable impact. The argument that hunters will leave the sport in droves if a lead ban passes isn’t mine… it’s the NRA and similar groups who have pushed this as part of their propaganda. I’ve challenged the argument… in fact, I’ve challenged it right here on the blog. Some hunters will probably quit in the wake of AB711. But it will be an insignificant number, easily offset by a banner waterfowl season or a productive deer harvest.

    And this still misses the point.

    AB711 will place a new, and fairly onerous burden on hunters across California. I am arguing that there is not sufficient justification to force hunters to take on this burden.