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September 17, 2013
Editorial: Scare stories on lead bullet ban should be ignored

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(Sept. 17 -- By the Editorial Board)

Gov. Jerry Brown should sign bill to extend non-lead ammunition to all hunting starting in July 2019 - beyond existing bans on lead bullets for hunting waterfowl and hunting large game in California's eight-county condor area.

The next stage in "getting the lead out" of bullets has led to near hysteria and paranoia in some circles.

California lawmakers have sent a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown that would require non-lead ammunition for all hunting starting in July 2019 (Assembly Bill 711).

Manufacturers and hunters would have five years to adjust.

Yet some are crying that the bill amounts to a "ban on hunting." Nonsense.

The problem is that lead bullets fragment when they pass through an animal, leaving behind lead residue and the potential of lead poisoning throughout the food chain.

AB 711 builds on the 1991 federal ban on lead shot for hunting geese and ducks, which helped waterfowl populations rebound. Ammunition manufacturers and hunters adjusted. It had little impact on the number of hunting licenses.

The bill also builds on California's Condor Protection Act of 2007 that required use of lead-free ammunition in eight counties for hunting feral pig, deer, elk, bear, pronghorn antelope, upland game birds, coyotes and four other animals - to reduce the risk of lead poisoning to the California condor and other birds.

The sky did not fall. Sales of deer tags did not decline. Hunting continued in the eight counties.

Lead-free ammunition, cry lead bullet proponents, is "at least three times more expensive" and "in extremely limited supply." Wrong.

Lead-free bullets are made in 35 calibers and 51 rifle cartridge designations. Thirty-one companies are certified to distribute lead-free bullets in California. Equivalent lead-free and lead-core ammunition for most popular calibers are similar in price, with lead-free only slightly higher.

Then, there's the claim that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives might classify non-lead bullets for hunting as "armor piercing," so hunters would be left with nothing. They conveniently seem to have forgotten that the 1968 federal law banning armor-piercing ammunition has a specific exemption for "sporting purposes."

The fact is the industry has been manufacturing and selling non-lead ammunition for sporting purposes for more than 30 years. But to allay fears, the bill requires the director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to temporarily suspend the lead ammunition ban if ATF makes an unlikely ruling to ban non-lead hunting bullets, making particular calibers unavailable.

The U.S. military, which has had a major cleanup problem at its firing ranges, is gradually switching away from lead bullets - beginning in 2010 with non-lead 5.56 mm bullets and expanding by 2014 to non-lead 7.62 mm bullets.

This is nothing onerous. Lead can cause serious problems for animals and humans, especially young children, and has been banned from household paints, dishes and cookware in the United States since 1978. It was phased out in gasoline and water pipes by 1986. It has been banned from children's toys since 2008.

An article for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association "Whitetales" magazine, called "Copper Opportunities" cited a Minnesota hunter: "I switched to copper because I don't like lead in the environment, don't like the poisoning of raptors and I don't like lead in my dinner."

The AB 711 ban on lead bullets for hunting is a change worth making and Brown should sign it.

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