Friday, February 11, 2005

Lead Contamination and Shooting Ranges

Ravenwood reports on the forced closing of The San Gabriel Valley Gun Club in San Gabriel, California. The club is 58 years old and 60 law enforcement officers use the facilities for training. The closing came about through rezoning efforts and closes other businesses such as a recycling center, an auto-body shop, furniture maker, and others.

The article in the local paper does not cover all the reasons, but it includes this sentence:
The gun club initially came under fire when neighbors complained about noise and lead contamination to the environment from bullets.

I have read a number of articles on attempts to close gun clubs in various parts of the country (click for a typical case). Almost all have stemmed from noise complaints made by people who moved into a neighborhood that just happened to have an outdoor shooting facility. Noise seems to be the biggest factor in range closings and attempts, but lead contamination is an issue that could hurt us gunnies.

Lead might be “next big thing” among gun-banners and unfortunately has enough merit to be worrisome. The concern has already attracted the attention of the Violence Policy Center. Shooting ranges have tried to address it with publications on lead attenuation, lead management, and other issues (see this catalog from the National Association of Shooting Ranges). The Federal government has studied it.

The issue is not just on the horizon, it is here. Some people have called for the introduction of lead-free bullets since condors and carrion birds can ingest lead through bullets in a carcass. The military is already producing and using lead-free “green” bullets for training. Manufacturers are making lead-free “range safe” bullets even as we read this.

It is just a matter of time before ranges are forced to clean the lead out of the range or shotgun fields and adopt only lead-free ammo. There have been court cases against ranges for lead problems. The clean up would be massive and expensive. Many ranges and gun clubs will not be able to afford it. Your local range might have to close over this problem. Public land stewards may bar the use of lead bullets.

I am not sure if anything can be done about this issue because there is some truth to it. Unfortunately, we can’t argue that lead is not a health hazard to animals and humans—it is. We can’t argue that lead doesn’t leach into the soil—it does. We can’t even use the fact that lead is a natural element found in the ground. In nature it is locked in ore not in partially soluble pellets and bullets. I fear that gun-banners will grab that truth and twist it and exaggerate and try to use it to end sport shooting.

The only defense I think will be to, well, bite the bullet in the near future and use lead-free ammunition. It is more expensive than regular ammunition now, but mass production will make it cheaper. We probably won’t have a choice as time passes.

Update: 2:08 pm: While cruising the 'net, I saw David Codrea's War on Guns post on an article regarding lead contamination in condors. Basically, environmentalists wanted to ban lead bullets, and the state said no--at least until more research is completed. This is good for us.

Codrea goes on to say that "The alleged lead hazard is more hype and hysteria than anything else." I wish I could be so positive. He cites studies that show that there is little contamination in a "...carefully designed shotgun/rifle range." This is my point exactly. Most of the ranges I have used were built some time ago and probably do not have proper lead abatement. It will be expensive to clear them of lead and then retrofit them.

He also cites another study that says lead does not leach into the soil to an appreciable degree. Other studies say that contaminated soil can be carried in runoff to streams and rivers. I am not a scientist and can't judge whose study is right.

I do know that if a range operator gets hauled into court, he or she will have to defend themselves against a number of scientific studies. They will need counter-studies in hand. That's the way the system works and the jury will decide which set of studies to accept.

I agree totally with Codrea that gun-banners want to use this as a way to hinder our use of ammo. We need to fight the gun-banners, but we have to make sure our science is better than theirs and to be adaptable and flexible when we must.


Anonymous said...

I recall taurus introducing an all copper bullet for such a reason. The problem was all the ATF hoops they had to jump through to get it approved for sale. That much regulation would discourage others from trying too.


Chelsea Flowers said...

shooting noise is a big factor in shooting rages.All are complaining about shooting noise.There fore adopting the new methods for preventing from shooting noise.Its better for the future of shooting ranges.