THE BLOG
08/19/2013 08:00 am ET

Gun Control: Getting the Lead Out -- Literally

The reason the NRA wins in Washington is because their opposition isn't organized. The opposition only comes to life when a terrible tragedy (Sandy Hook) occurs, and as soon as the posturing and pleading comes to an end, support for more gun control quickly disappears. The NRA, on the other hand, never misses an opportunity to remind its members that the 2nd Amendment right to own guns must be constantly and continually defended.

The problem is that people who support gun control usually don't own guns. But they do own something else. What they own, and they share this ownership with gun owners by the way, is the world in which we live. Whether we call ourselves environmentalists, preservationists, naturalists, ecologists, bird-watchers, tree-huggers, or just good, old-fashioned lovers of the outdoors, the number of people who support and enjoy the beauties and wonderment of nature dwarfs the NRA's membership by far.

And now it appears that, for the very first time, these folks may be gearing up to challenge the NRA's monopoly over discussions not about guns per se, but about the ways in which they are used. I am referring to the legislative battle in California over Assembly Bill 711 which bans all lead ammunition within the state. Previously, lead ammunition was prohibited in areas inhabited by the California condor and certain other flyways; now environmentalists are attempting to extend the prohibition state-wide.

As expected, the NRA is using a combination of scare tactics ('they're really after your guns'), pseudo-science ('more animals die from road kills than from lead shot'), and economic Armageddon ('thousands of jobs are at stake,') to spearhead the anti-711 crusade. But the NRA's campaign isn't about what kind of ammunition will be used to shoot at game or targets per se. It's about who will set the terms and the tone for any discussion about guns.

The NRA has been very successful in making sure that government regulation over the gun industry, particularly the regulation of products, is minimal at best. They know that if California bans all lead ammunition, that the regulatory virus will spread. The country was settled East to West but new things tend to move from West to East. Remember where half-and-half first started messing up coffee? Remember a guy named Reagan?

The problem isn't the lack of alternative, non-toxic materials. The problem is the lack of communication between the two sides. For example, we have banned lead-based paint and leaded gasoline, and nobody who wants to be taken seriously in any discussion about public health would question the Center for Disease Control's recommendations on protecting children from exposure to lead. Manufacturing lead ammunition creates the second highest consumption of lead, the 65 million metric tons used in 2012 ranking only behind the amount used in the manufacture of batteries. But ammunition manufacturers have been petitioning the ATF for years without success to create realistic rules governing ammunition components that would allow non-toxic materials to be substituted for lead.

Here's a real opportunity for the two sides to sit down, put the vitriol aside, and come up with a plan that satisfies both the public health risks of lead exposure on the one hand, and the ability of the ammo manufacturers to utilize non-toxic substances on the other. And it wouldn't have to involve any government regulation at all. One of the NRA's favorite symbols is our beloved bald eagle. That bird lives today in great numbers because naturalists and environmentalists fought a long and difficult battle to get rid of DDT. Why can't we get together and do the same thing with lead?

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