Published March 16, 2012
Lead poisoning from bullets? Sounds scary, but the push by the Center for Biological Diversity in a petition to the EPA is nothing new. The claim has been brought up many times, and even the EPA during anti-gun Clinton administration dismissed the fears about traditional, lead ammunition.
The lead in ammunition has never been shown to produce any health hazards, but a ban would produce a real health hazard, making it much more difficult for people to use guns to defend themselves.
During the Clinton administration, when the risks of lead ammunition were seriously debated, the EPA found no cause for concern. Research by William Marcus, Senior Science Advisor in the EPA's Office of Science and Technology, in a letter dated December 25, 1999, stated his findings: the claim that "lead based ammunition is hazardous is in error." Lead on the soil surface "does not break down. . . . [it] does not pose an environmental or human hazard. . . . In water lead acts much the same as in soil . . . ." The hazards don't exist for indoor shooting ranges any more than they do for outdoor ranges.
Eating food shot with lead ammunition isn't a problem. A 2008 study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted blood tests on 736 hunters, found that lead ammunition produced very small changes in lead exposure, with concentrations well below CDC benchmark levels of concern, and posed no discernible risk to human health.
"There are safe, available alternatives to lead ammo for all hunting and shooting sports, so there’s no reason for this poisoning to go on," claimed a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity.
But ammunition containing lead, a dense and heavy metal, has a lot of advantages. The increased weight means shots have more stopping power. Try explaining to a small five-foot woman why she shouldn't be concerned about the stopping power of bullets when a six-foot tall, 200-pound man is charging towards her.
The lighter ammunition has less momentum, and the longer the distance, the less accurate the shots. The non-lead ammunition is much more expensive, frequently costing twice the cost of traditional ammunition. Many guns also have to be redesigned and will be more costly to build. Putting non-lead ammunition into guns designed for lead causes them to wear out much more quickly.
The Obama administration has also looked into this issue before, but the EPA did not make its decision on the environmental merits. The agency instead agreed with the National Rifle Association who explained how Congress had specifically excluded ammunition from the Toxic Substances Control Act which governs potentially harmful materials such as lead.
Based on either the science or the law, this new filing by the Center for Biological Diversity should go nowhere. But whether this might be part of Obama's "under the radar" campaign to reduce gun ownership remains to be seen.
If the Obama administration bans traditional ammunition, the harm will be immediate and clear. You might not be able to protect yourself when you need to the most.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a FoxNews.com contributor. He is an economist and co-author of the just released “Debacle: Obama's War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future” (John Wiley & Sons, March 2012).