Lead, first employed in weaponry by the Romans, has been the metal of choice for use in bullets and shotgun shells for more than seven centuries. However, since at least the mid-1980s, its use has been under attack by various environmental and animal rights groups, joined periodically by government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In recent months the campaign has heated up considerably, and gives no sign of cooling down; within the U.S. or abroad.
The movement against lead in ammunition has progressed much farther in Europe than here. For one thing, the culture prevalent in Europe (Switzerland being a notable exception) considers firearms ownership a privilege rather than a right; subject to easy and frequent government control. The environmental and animal rights movement is also well-entrenched throughout Europe and within the European Union bureaucracy.
These forces in Europe have resulted in at least three countries — Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands – banning lead shot for all hunted species. Other European countries, including France and England, ban lead shot for hunting waterfowl. Such actions are the result of claims — not supported by any consistent science or medicine — that hunting with lead-based ammunition, and fishing with equipment containing lead, kills millions of birds and other animals each year as a result of ingesting lead traces from these “toxic” hunting and fishing activities.
Animal rights and environmental groups on this side of the Atlantic, however, are working hard to catch up to their European counterparts. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) trumpets this issue as a “deadly epidemic” that threatens humans as well as animals. Such efforts have paid some dividends for the anti-lead ammunition advocates in recent months.
Last year, for example, the National Parks Service implemented a plan to ban lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle in parks under its jurisdiction.
The CDC has long been trying to solidify its jurisdiction over firearms and ammunition (defining a shooting as a “disease” is a stretch, but one that has not deterred the dauntless folks at CDC from relentlessly pushing the envelope of their jurisdiction). The agency even has a lead poisoning prevention office, which among other things, conducts studies of lead levels in blood of people in areas where wild game is consumed. No studies have yet shown dangerous levels of lead, but the studies — conducted, of course, at taxpayer expense — continue; perhaps until some imaginative researcher discovers the desired results.
Across the Nation’s Capital, the EPA earlier this month was again drawn into the lead ammunition fray as a result of a petition filed by the CBD and other kindred groups. The petition asked that the EPA assume jurisdiction over lead in ammunition and move to ban it, pursuant to terms of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA last Friday dismissed the petition – correctly concluding that the law, which did in fact grant the feds extensive power to regulate lead, exempted firearms and ammunition from its reach.
Had the EPA decided instead to accept these petitioners’ tortured arguments that somehow the language in the law did not really exempt lead in ammunition, because the offending substance could be separated from the other parts of the cartridges and shells, a battle royal would have ensued with firearms- and hunting-rights organizations.
Still, further actions against ammunition are certain, and more petitions are likely in the months ahead. The bottom line is that this controversy has little to do with the health of either humans or wildlife, and much to do about gun control; whose advocates have taken a beating in recent Supreme Court decisions. Rather than licking their wounds, however, the gun control crowd remains busy looking up old friends at EPA, the CDC and elsewhere in Washington; and finding a more receptive audience.