Lead Ban Chronicles – Is Lead Smelter Closure An Anti-Gun Conspiracy?

December 4, 2013

Lead Ban ChroncilesNo.

It is nothing of the sort.

I wasn’t going to bother with this one, but it’s been really bothering me.

Some of you may remember that, a few weeks back, I posted about the closure of the last US primary lead smelting facility.  Based on what I was reading at the time, it sounded like it could have an impact on lead prices, not just for ammo but for many products and my post reflected that concern.  Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read a little more, and it became pretty clear that this closure wasn’t such a big deal… at least not as far as the ammo supply and prices are concerned.  I figured the uproar would die down quickly enough, once folks realized this really wasn’t as significant an event as it appeared.

It didn’t die down.

Let’s just pause here for a second, and be clear.  I’m never eager to make sorties into the realm of politics, or even the “gun rights” discussion.  That’s a place where truth and logic go to die a quick, violent (and generally senseless) death, and I have little patience for it.

While I certainly recognize that antipathy between Republican and Democrat has a long history, I believe the current situation in this country plumbs the very depths of that enmity… especially as pertains to the  attitude of the “Extreme Right” toward the current President.  So, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that a segment of the political right-wing declared that the closure of the Doe Run smelting operation was actually a back-door ploy by the Obama administration to hamper the availability of ammunition.  And truthfully, it didn’t shock me to hear that accusation from a couple of the more extremist, “gun rights” conspiracy theorists and rabble-rousing web sites.  But then it kept spreading… the flames fanned by the NRA, whose Institute for Legislative Action group stated the following (in typically panic-inducing tones):

What is clear is that after the Herculaneum smelter closes its doors in December, entirely domestic manufacture of conventional ammunition, from raw ore to finished cartridge, will be impossible.

So let’s follow this conspiracist train of thought for a minute.

  1. The EPA, under the direction of the President, leveraged the Clean Air Act to force Doe Run to shut down, thus; eliminating the last domestic, primary lead smelter in the United States.
  2. This action forces industries that utilize primary lead (lead smelted directly from natural ore) to find other sources, most of which are now offshore.
  3. This reduces supply and increases cost.
  4. As a result, gun owners will not be able to find or afford ammunition for their guns… effectively removing those guns from circulation.

Before I even bother to apply facts to this theory, can anyone spot some logical flaws?

How about the reality that, even with the last serious ammo “shortage” in 2012/2013, gun sales took place at the highest rate in history?  Ammo shortages don’t necessarily equate to reductions in gun ownership.

Or, if Obama was really interested in banning lead ammunition, he could direct the EPA to override the tenets of the Toxic Substances Control Act and simply ban lead bullets outright.

Or, and this is just a thought… We’re talking about an administration that can’t even manage to launch a website properly, much less keep the activities of our national spy organization out of the public domain.  This President has struggled just to push low-level appointees past the roadblocks set by his Republican opponents.  Do we really believe that this government could pull off such a Machiavellian subterfuge?

Do people never even stop to consider the implications of the bullshit they’re being fed?

Of course, once you apply the facts, as several fact-checking organizations have now done, none of this speculation is even relevant.

To begin with, Doe Run’s issues with the EPA regulators predates the Obama administration by several years (at least 2001).  The final straw was a 2008 tightening of the Clean Air Act regulation (a change enacted during the Bush administration), and the decision to halt smelting operations at the Herculaneum plant by the end of 2013 was officially made in 2010.

Even more telling, though, is the reaction from the ammunition industry itself.  The NSSF (in something of a break from its lockstep with the NRA) has stepped forward to let people know that primary lead is not critical to the manufacture of ammunition.  Most ammo is made from secondary sources, such as recycled lead and recovered scrap from other industrial manufacturing processes.  The NSSF and several ammunition manufacturers have clearly stated that the closure of the Herculaneum smelter will not impact the supply of lead for bullets.

No one is willing to say that, in the very long run, this plant closure won’t have some residual impact on the cost and availability of lead for ammunition.  That’s a fair, albeit distant concern.  But what’s more important, and should be abundantly clear, is that nothing about this shut down has anything to do with back-door machinations to stop the production and availability of ammo… whether led by the Obama administration or anyone else.



7 Responses to “Lead Ban Chronicles – Is Lead Smelter Closure An Anti-Gun Conspiracy?”

  1. Josh on December 4th, 2013 16:21

    Oh, no! They’ve gotten to Phillip!

  2. Lead Ban Chronicles – Is Lead Smelter Closure An Anti-Gun Conspiracy? | on December 4th, 2013 18:33

    […] Lead Ban Chronicles – Is Lead Smelter Closure An Anti-Gun Conspiracy? […]

  3. hodgeman on December 4th, 2013 23:47

    Critical thinking skills….rarer than the proverbial hen’s tooth. Thankfully you’ve got some Phillip!

    I guess though I’m not surprised- it’s easy to walk around incensed when you want to be…

  4. Phillip on December 7th, 2013 07:53

    Thanks, Hodge. And you’re right, there’s plenty to be pissed about, and between online “news” sources and social media, it doesn’t take much to wander down some pretty wacked out trails.

    Does anyone even remember the days when most folks could tell the difference between news and commentary, articles vs. editorials? Hell, these days, I’m not even sure the editors and producers know one from the other.

  5. JAC on December 7th, 2013 11:30

    FWIW the EPA would have to engage in findings and then rulemaking in order to ban lead. Obama couldn’t just direct it to do it. Administrative law! It’s a thing! And it takes a long time, as you point out. Twelve years and multiple steps just to make the changes that closed the Herc plant.

    EPA is able to tighten air regs because there have been endangerment findings about PM 2.5 and carbon dioxide, tested at the Supreme Court, and EPA is now able to make rules to protect against the danger. But even now, EPA is shackled by all sorts of pro-business constraints imposed by Congress.

    All this stuff takes multiple adnimistrations. Even when they are eight year stints.

  6. Phillip on December 8th, 2013 07:11

    Yupp, John. I may have over-simplified. I won’t foray into your area of expertise, but I do think precedent for the EPA to ban lead bullets is already set. They have certainly banned lead for other uses. The only thing holding them back from extending the ban to ammunition is a technicality that appears to protect ammunition (shells and cartridges) from EPA regulation under the TSCA (those pro-business constraints you mentioned).

    Depending on how you read the arguments, the protections may not be as iron-clad as some would like to think. The Center for Biological Diversity is arguing that the protection only extends to the final product, but not the components. When I tried to read through the relevant statutes and laws, the legalese made my head hurt and I did not come away feeling like it was clearly defined at all. Logically, I want to agree with the argument that the components make up the whole and so lead bullets and shot are protected as core part of cartridges and shells. But technically, I don’t know that the law really provides that granularity and may very well expose a vulnerability.

    I expect we’ll find out as the Center for Biological Diversity is not likely to stop beating this drum. They’ve been turned away twice, but as we know, sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the right argument in front of the right judge.

    But none of this will happen overnight.

    Nevertheless, I think the bottom line here is that if the Obama administration were really that interested in “backdoor gun control”, this issue wouldn’t be some relatively quiet little argument between a couple of lobbying groups (CBD vs NSSF) that no one in the Court wants to deal with. It would be in the courts and probably not receiving a very gun-friendly review by “Obama-appointed jurists”.

  7. JAC on December 9th, 2013 18:24

    Obama has had a judge seated?

    I’ve done a lot of admin law the last five years, but not the kind involving federal agencies and rulemaking. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m an expert. But I would venture this point in addition to your insight about the Administration’s disinterest in the issue:

    This issue has been heard several times at the trial court level. If CBD is shopping for a better juirist, it hasn’t shown it. And, since this is a federal question, taking horizontal appeals, that is going from court to court at the same level, is frowned upon. If CBD hasn’t convinced any judges that the endangerment findings about lead apply to bullets, it isn’t going to be likely to find one now who is susceptible of convincing. Stare decisis may no longer mean anything at the Supreme Court, but most (most, not all) federal judges still apply the doctrine.