That Dog Don’t Hunt

How Lead-Free Bullets Kill Better, but Traditional Ammo Makes You Dumber

DUMB AND DUMBER: Lead poisoning, as even 1st graders know, induces terminal stupidity in its victims. Sudden irreversible IQ drop. That’s if it doesn’t kill you outright. Based on some of the wet-your-pants rhetoric now emanating from lobbyists with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the California Association of Firearms Retailers regarding the collateral impact of lead-based ammo on living critters, one can only assume they ingested way too much of their own product. I am speaking of the industry uproar over a proposed state bill ​— ​AB 711 ​— ​that would ban the use of any lead-based ammunition anywhere in California. If passed, this would finish the work started in 2007 by a similar measure sponsored by Pedro Nava ​— ​then Santa Barbara’s state house representative ​— ​that banned lead ammo for “big game hunting” in areas designated by the California Fish and Game Commission as Condor Country. Not only would it make California the first and only state to require all hunting and shooting to be done with relatively newer, lead-free, copper-based “green” bullets; it would also render obsolete and meaningless the expression “Eat Lead!” Given the immense size of California’s ammunition market and dangerously sane precedent this might set, one can almost sympathize with the rear-guard hysteria now seizing the lead ’n’ dead lobby.

Angry Poodle

Where Nava had to try multiple times before finally getting a limited ban passed, a first-year rookie legislator ​— ​Anthony Rendon, a Democrat out of Southeastern Los Angeles ​— ​managed to get a total ban through the Assembly on his very first attempt ​— ​on a strict party-line vote ​— ​and appears poised to get it through the Senate in the next few weeks. Rendon cites the usual 500 scientific studies showing how lead is dangerous to no less than 130 species once it starts working its way up the food chain. And it gets there because every year, hunters “deposit” no less than 650,000 metric tons of lead into the ground. Next to lead-based batteries, spent bullets constitute the largest source of lead in the environment. Battery disposal is regulated; spent ammo is not. As a result, the United States Geological Survey estimates there are 400,000 lead shots per acre in areas where game is hunted.

This is especially a problem for the California condor, a federally endangered species that by any reckoning should have been named the state bird instead of the California valley quail. Condors are scavengers, which means they feast on the carcasses of dead critters. They especially love to feast on warm steaming “gut piles” that many deer-hunters leave behind after dressing their kill. If the aforementioned gut piles contain remnants of the lead ammo, it’s as if the hunter shot two creatures, not one. That’s how it came to pass there were only 22 condors left in California as of 1987. Due to massive human intervention, we now have slightly more than 400, though less than half live in the wild. We care because the condors are freakishly wonderful birds with scrotum-like faces and 10-foot wingspans. They mate for life, raise their chicks one egg every two years ​— ​so they can engage in intensive child-rearing activities ​— ​and can track down dead stuff 150 miles away. Were it not for humans, they’d live to the age of 60. Condors, it turns out, have intensely powerful gastric juices, which means if they ingest any lead, it quickly dissolves in their gut and does maximum damage. Despite passage of Nava’s bill six years ago, lead poisoning remains a huge problem for condors. The only thing keeping them alive is the $5 million a year that’s spent to test and treat the birds. About 20 percent of the existing condor population has been “treated” at least once, a euphemism for capturing the sick birds, taking their blood out, filtering it, and re-injecting it back into their bodies.

“Green” bullets, it turns out, are about 15 percent more expensive than lead ammo, but they are probably 15 percent more deadly. According to the Pentagon ​— ​which has spent millions on ballistic tests ​— ​they shoot faster, more accurately, and penetrate more deeply upon impact. In other words, they kill better. As a result, the military brass is pushing for copper bullets, despite objections voiced by The Angry White Male blog site that this is leading to the “wussification of the military.” Lobbyist with NRA have sought to at least sound a little more rational, positing the inventive but dubious proposition that there are two different kinds of lead, one being poisonous, and the other ​— ​being ammo ​— ​not. To the extent condors and other creatures are getting sick, they’ve argued, it’s because they’ve been gnawing on old lead-based fishing lures that somehow got dropped, en masse, into California’s backcountry. Or perhaps it was flecks of lead-based paint that blew off the ranger’s look-out platform that’s making the big birds throw up their guts. And no, I’m not making this up; I’m not that creative. This theory conveniently ignores the health warnings issued by the departments of natural resources in such hunter-friendly states as North Dakota and Minnesota that food pantries there not distribute venison shot with lead-based ammo.

As usual, the NRA is conjuring vast swirling conspiracies that AB 711 is in reality a stealth bill designed to ban hunting altogether, allowing the government yet another pretext to confiscate our guns. Because green bullets are so efficient, the NRA contends, they run the risk of being categorized as “armor piercing” bullets by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. If that happened, these bullets could be banned as “cop killers.” It’s worth noting that copper bullets have been around since the 1980s and to date, this scenario has never come close to unfolding.

The best argument against AB 711 is that there are not enough green bullets to meet the demand. The reality is there’s a huge shortage of all ammo right now, and that’s been the case since 2008, when a Black Man got elected to the White House. Like I say, lead poisoning causes terminal stupidity.


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