Calif. lead bullet ban could burn down more forests

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Efforts by California state officials to ban lead bullets in an effort to protect the environment could actually end up hurting it, according to critics.

A bill in the California State Assembly introduced by Democrat Anthony Rendon would ban the use of lead bullets by hunters in California, which environmentalists argue would help protect endangered species like the California Condor. Hunters would be forced to use non-lead alternatives, like copper bullets.

However, government research shows that solid-copper bullets have a much higher propensity to ignite fires than lead core bullets.

“We found that bullets could reliably cause ignitions, specifically those containing steel components (core or jacket) and those made of solid copper,” reads a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service.

“Ignitions of peat also occurred with a small set of tests using solid copper bullets and a granite target,” added the study. “Thermal infra-red  video and temperature sensitive paints suggested that the temperature of bullet fragments could  exceed 800°C. Bullet fragments collected from a water tank were larger for solid copper and steel core/jacketed bullets than for lead core bullets, which also facilitate ignition.”

“Setting the arguments for and against banning of lead ammunition aside, [Rendon’s bill], like many other bills that move quickly through the California Legislature, has unintended consequences – some of which are particularly timely given the intensity of this fire season,” wrote Michelle Orrock of the Cosumnes Community Services District in Sacramento County.

“As someone elected to help set policy and manage a budget for a large fire district,” Orrock said, “I am watchful for any potential public policy that may, albeit inadvertently, increase fire danger – and thereby potential firefighting costs.”

Lead ammunition occupies 95 percent of the ammunition market and has a low propensity of sparking and igniting, according to Orrock, and mandating that hunters can no longer use such bullets in the state would artificially increase the market share of copper bullets — increasing the risk of wildfires.

“I would be more convinced of the sincerity of this argument if the author expressed concerned about ANY situation involving the ignition of gunpowder near areas that are vulnerable to fire,” Rendon wrote in an emailed statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Arguably, expulsion of hot brass casings that are not properly policed or any irresponsible behavior related to human activity in the outdoors such as smoking provide an equally concerning threat to state fire safety,” Rendon added. “Would her argument then be to ban all hunting, hiking and camping because of the potential threat of causing a wildfire?”

In March, supporters of the lead-bullet ban touted a University of California study that found that lead-based ammunition was toxic to humans and to the environment. The study found that lead bullets used to kill animals in hunting can fragment into smaller pieces which could be eaten by other animals or processed into meat for human consumption.

California has already spent one-quarter of its firefighting budget — $44 million — fighting blazes across the state this year, according to Orrick, and the fiscal year only recently began.

“As a local elected official charged with the fiscal management of a large fire district, these numbers are cause for concern,” Orrick wrote. “Whether we are looking at pension obligations and budget constraints or environmental issues like drought – the growing state and local costs to protect communities from fire is serious.”

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, California currently has eight fires burning more than 250,000 acres across the state.

“I support responsible firearm and ammunition ownership,” Orrick said. “But by passing this lead ammunition ban bill, California Legislators may be unknowingly increasing the risk for ammunition-sparked fires. We need to take every opportunity to mitigate potential fire risk to our state and local communities, because at the end of the day, taxpayers are footing the bill.”

Aside from wildfires, hunting groups argue that the lead bullet ban would become a de facto statewide ban on hunting, as less toxic bullets like copper and bronze are more expensive and harder to find.

“The fact that a product is advertised does not mean it’s available,” said Sam Paredes with Gun Owners of California. “If you go to a lot of the people that show non-lead ammunition being available, it’s back-ordered and they cannot tell you when they’re going to be able to deliver.”

“That’s why we view this right now as a ban on traditional hunting in California, because we cannot get the non-lead ammo,” said Kathy Lynch with the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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