Gun Laws & Legislation

Activists Shoot Themselves In The Foot Over Traditional Ammo Ban Campaign


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By Larry Keane

Sometimes the best thing to do when activists attack is to let their arguments fall under their own weight. That’s what happened when Environmental Health News (EHN) published a series on traditional ammunition.

The activist news service that describes itself as, “a nonprofit, nonpartisaan organization dedicated to driving science into public discussion and policy on environmental health issues, including climate change,” attempted to smear NSSF by accusing the firearm and ammunition industry’s trade association of being “science deniers,” copycatting “Big Tobacco” to sell traditional ammunition and completely misrepresenting hunting’s role in wildlife management. This is now a standard tactic of the political “Left.” Attack anyone who challenges the orthodoxy as a “science denier.” At the end of the day, EHN’s breathless tirade against traditional ammunition and hunting exposes land-mine sized potholes that EHN refuses to acknowledge.

NSSF chose to answer questions to EHN’s reporter, Samantha Totoni, despite her previous reports targeting traditional ammunition. The firearm industry has nothing to hide in this debate. More information provides gun owners educated choices. The facts are clear. Traditional ammunition has been used for hunting in North America for over 400 years. The fact is there has never been one case of an individual suffering lead poisoning due to the consumption of wild game.

Selective Editing

The fact there are no reported cases of individuals suffering lead poisoning due to harvested wild game consumption was offered to EHN’s Totoni, but didn’t make the final edit. NSSF is agnostic when it comes to which types of ammunition hunters and recreational shooters should use. There are choices available in the market, including alternatives offered by traditional ammunition manufacturers. That choice should be left to the buyers, not dictated by agenda-driven publications seeking blanket public policy decisions.

Policy decisions regarding wildlife management must be driven by science. It is critical to ensure that agenda-driven policies don’t harm the incredibly success of the North American Wildlife Model. That model brought back Rocky Mountain elk, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, pronghorn antelope and waterfowl from dangerously low levels to teeming populations. This model relies on what’s termed a “user pays-public benefits” system. That includes firearm and ammunition manufacturers that pay the Pittman-Robertson excise tax that’s contributed over $14 billion to wildlife conservation since 1937. The success of this program isn’t limited to game species, or those animals that are hunted. This program also contributed to the successful recovery of the American Bald Eagle, which has been removed form the Endangered and Threatened Species Lists.

Weaponizing Science

Accusations of denying science fall flat when the firearm industry points to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2008 that found blood-lead levels in hunters consuming wild game harvested using traditional ammunition were actually lower than individuals in the same community that didn’t consume wild game. The CDC study showed that no hunters using traditional ammunition had elevated blood-lead levels even approaching the threshold of concern.

None of this denies science. It relies on it. This seems to be more of a case of projecting what anti-hunting groups are actually doing themselves and attempting to tar firearm and ammunition makers. That explains the accusations that ammunition makers are following the “Big Tobacco” playbook. The first and biggest problem with this argument is that the same ammunition makers producing traditional ammunition also produce alternatives.

The science of wildlife management is based on population models, not sick or injured animals. If the intent of wildlife management was to end injury to animals, that would eliminate hunting altogether. That goal, though, wouldn’t end with targeting hunters using traditional ammunition. Environmentalists advocating for sustainable energy through windfarms would be forced to tear down wind turbines, which are responsible for killing between 140,000 and 500,000 birds per year. That’s predicted to rise to as many as 1.4 million birds a year from 200 separate species. Vehicles would also be banned to end wildlife collision deaths and injuries. Even the lead used in car batteries would be banned, since the naturally-occurring element is a critical component for the batteries used in cars – especially in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.

The “Big Tobacco” smear ignores the fact that hunting and fishing is constitutionally protected in 23 states, and fishing is constitutionally protected in two more. Harvesting wild game is a right of the people. It’s also been proven that initiatives to ban traditional ammunition, along with overreaching gun control, results in nose-diving statistics of hunters going into the fields, woods and marshes. Licenses sold to California hunters each year decreased approximately 70 percent, from over 750,000 in 1970 down to 225,000 in 2019. That’s created a public lands funding crisis in California, since hunting and fishing licenses, combined with the Pittman-Robertson funds distributed by the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, pays for conservation lands upon which wildlife depends to thrive.

Legitimate Purpose

Finally, EHN’s misrepresentation of hunting’s role in sustainable wildlife conservation must be addressed. EHN’s report accused NSSF of not answering the question for their position on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services on one of the seven principles that states, “Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose.”

NSSF did answer. “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service also lists hunting as a wildlife management tool and outdoor tradition,” NSSF wrote in response to Totoni’s direct question on taking of wildlife. NSSF even provided the link to where USFWS states this so she could see for herself that hunting is a crucial tool for sustainable wildlife management and conservation.

That was omitted. Some might call it cherry-picking data to drive an anti-hunting agenda.

Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.