Lead Ban Chronicles – Does A Lead Ban = Bullet Ban?

June 11, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesI expect some folks are getting sick of hearing about this.  I expect some of you think I really, REALLY need to go hunting or something so I’ll write about another topic. 

Sorry.  No hunting for me for a while.  And this lead ban thing, it isn’t going anywhere. 

(Oh, and if you’re new here, I absolutely reject the idea of the lead ammo ban… in CA or anywhere else.  It’s unnecessary legislation that will place a significant burden on hunters without making any appreciable positive difference to the environment, wildlife, or human health.  I am strongly against the lead ammo ban.)

A while back, I mentioned that I’d run into a recent meme about how lead free bullets may run afoul of “cop killer bullet” legislation, resulting in a ban on non-lead ammo.  At the time, I thought it was the product of some paranoid, under-informed (albeit well-meaning) gun nut who had simply misinterpreted the BATF regulations. 

Thus it was only with mild surprise that I learned the source of this “rumor” was none other than those paranoid, over-informed (they know better) gun nuts at the NRA.  Since that first exposure to this piece of “information”, I’ve seen it repeated in multiple places around the Interwebz… including a prominent place on the NRA/NSSF shill site, HuntForTruth.Org.  The other day I saw it in an “Action Alert” from the USSF (US Sportsmens Foundation).  Today, I saw it repeated again in a letter from the NSSF to the CA Senate Natural Resources Committee as part of an appeal to reject AB711 (the expansion of the CA lead ammo ban).

Before I dump on a little more derision to this blatant fear-mongering and misdirection, here’s what’s going on.

In 1986, Public Law 99-408, the so-called “Cop Killer Bullet law” was passed.  The key section, Section B states:

The term ‘armor piercing ammunition’ means a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances)from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron,brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium. Such term does not include shotgun shot required by Federal or State environmental or game regulations for hunting purposes, a frangible projectile designed for target shooting, a projectile which the Secretary finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes, or any other projectile or projectile core which the Secretary finds is intended to be used for industrial purposes, including a charge used in an oil and gas well perforating device.

Note, first of all, that the regulation applies ONLY to ammunition which may be used in a handgun.  The reason for this specific language is that pretty much any center-fire rifle bullet will penetrate soft body-armor… the criteria by which “armor piercing” is defined in the context of this law. 

You’re probably thinking the same thing I thought, back in 1998 or ’99 when I took this question to the SHOT Show with me.  Under the terms of this law, wouldn’t a copper handgun bullet be banned?  I talked to an engineer and a marketing guy at Barnes, and then I went and asked an ATF agent (they always have a huge booth at the SHOT Show).  Their answers matched perfectly, and in fact, you may have already seen the answer right there in the language of the law.  “Such term does not include shotgun shot required by Federal or State environmentalor game regulations for hunting purposes, a frangible projectile designed for target shooting, a projectile which the Secretary finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes…”

So Barnes was able to get their all-copper, handgun bullets through the BATF process because the Secretary found that it was intended for sporting purposes.    However, it did take a lot of work from both the Barnes engineers and their legal team to make it happen. 

According to the letter from the NSSF (and co-signed by several hunting and conservation organizations), there are at least 19 companies who have submitted requests to have their lead-free bullet approved.  Now I understand how bureaucracy works, so I can see that there are likely delays.  But I did some research to see what bullets they might be talking about.  Only one case came up, and it was from 2011.  It involved an ammo maker who had developed a line of brass bullets for the 5.7x28mm cartridge.  Because the manufacturer had apparently failed to submit the design, BATF raided his business and seized the ammunition.  He argued that his design was the same as the Barnes banded solids and met the “sporting use” requirement. 

As a layman, I could see where this thing walked a fine line.  The manufacturer’s original argument was that the bullet was designed for a rifle, so it should be exempt from the bill in the first place.  However, it does not appear to have been originally designed for hunting or sporting purposes.  Again, it’s a fine line to my untrained eye.  But if this is a similar case with all of the 19 alleged applicants, I can certainly see why there’s an extended delay.

The rest of the argument relies on the fact that there are many handguns designed to shoot rifle cartridges.  These include the Thompson Contender, Remington XP-100, Weatherby Mark V CFP, and a few others.   Should one choose to twist logic a bit, one could argue that under the letter of P.L. 99-408, any ammunition that could be used in one of these “handguns” would be subject to the BATF review process.  This is the twisted technicality upon which the NRA/NSSF rest their argument.  And technically, I suppose it’s true enough.  But the suggestion that this review is actually underway, or even being considered is nothing more than propaganda for the paranoid.  

The ATF is not planning to recategorize all lead-free rifle ammunition as “armor piercing”.  They’re not going to make the manufacturers pull all of their ETips, Barnes bullets, Lapua Naturalis, Winchester PowerCore, Remington Copper Solids, and Federal Trophy Copper off of the shelf and send it in for review.  A lead ban in California is not going to be a de facto hunting ban because of the Cop Killer legislation. 

So there ya go!  If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with bullshit.


3 Responses to “Lead Ban Chronicles – Does A Lead Ban = Bullet Ban?”

  1. Holly Heyser on June 11th, 2013 07:26

    Yeah, the problem is that most people – including a hell of a lot of newspaper reporters – don’t actually go looking for facts; everyone just shares memes on Facebook and by email. Usually this inures to the benefit of the other side – I’ve seen whole articles on this topic quoting only the HSUS lobbyist here in Cali. But frankly I hate seeing misinformation on EITHER side. It’s just not sporting.

  2. Phillip on June 11th, 2013 09:56

    I absolutely agree, Holly.

    As far as those articles, an awful lot of them are nothing less than reprints of press releases from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). CBD was once an organization that I supported, but they’ve become co-opted by the animal rights groups like HSUS.

    With this newest meme, I have come to expect no less from the NRA, but I’m disappointed that many of the smaller organizations are buying into the NRA’s propaganda.

    I guess it’s just old-fashioned thinking, but I believe any argument worth having is worth having honestly and factually. But the game these days appears to be about playing on ignorance, emotion, and fear.

  3. Neil on June 12th, 2013 05:56

    Yep. This is a phenomenon that seems pretty pervasive in media and the public at large these days. It’s incredible how much pushback from all sides you can get when you try to cut though the hysteria, hype, and locked down partisan rhetoric on nearly any subject. Not that compromise is always the best solution, but it’s helpful for all concerned if you can get to a place where you can actually see a clear picture of what you’re debating.