Get the Lead Out for Earth Day?

Speaking of Earth Day (if we must), did you hear the one about the environmentalist who wants to ban lead in bullets? (Wait…you mean that’s not a joke?) Nope. It’s not. Environmentalists really wanna ban lead. And the funny part is, the lead they want to ban isn’t the lead that is the real environmental hazard.

Let’s take a step back. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and let’s hope that it’s a rock that you live under without disturbing the surrounding ecosystem!), you’ve heard that everything is supposed to be “going green.” It’s the Right Thing To Do For Our Planet! But wait a tick. I’m a marketing guy, first and foremost. I live, eat, breathe and sleep this stuff. I can smell a con a mile away. And this is one great big con, from florescent lightbulbs to lead-free bullets. Allow me to explain…

One of the time-honored traditions in marketing is called the “Bandwagon Technique” – Come on! Hey everybody’s for this! Join the crowd! That’s what you’re hearing when you see Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC, et all, each try and out-green each other. It’s often joined by Ad Hominem attacks and other logical fallacies on anybody who doesn’t jump on the trend. You’re not supporting cap and trade? Then you must hate the environment, and are therefore a MONSTER! Nowhere is this particular brand of hokum more pronounced then when talk turns to the environment, regarding guns and ammo – specifically lead ammo. With The (People’s) State of Kalifornia California leading the way, environmental advocates are pushing laws that will ban lead in ammo. To understand why this is happening – and why it’s a dumb idea, you need to understand a little something about metallurgy.

Ever wonder why we use lead in bullets? Forget all the B-movie gangster talk of “fill you full of lead” – there’s a couple of practical reasons to use lead as the main ingredient in bullets. First of all, lead is really dense. Density = mass. More mass = more stopping power. Lead is also extremely malleable at room temps – something you can’t say of a whole lot of dense metals. That means that it’s relatively easy to get a lead bullet to change shape, from say a mostly-pointy thing to a starfish-shaped, ragged bit of metal, bent on destruction. Because a lead bullet easily changes shape, it also means that it’s the best choice for bullets that behave themselves – i.e.: hit the intended target, do maximum damage, then lose velocity (energy) and fail to penetrate whatever’s unlucky enough to be standing behind the target when it’s fired upon. In simple terms: less chance for collateral damage.

To hear the Earth First! crowd tell it, lead is Evil, like thalidomide, nuclear power, and George W. Bush, all rolled into one. They claim that lead bullets from guns – and lead pellets from shotgun shells – are responsible for killing California condors and other birds of prey. They claim that the condors are dying because they ingest lead bullets as they eat animals killed by hunters. Condors are beautiful animals, but are also apparently one of nature’s garbage men waste disposal specialists. Think “Buzzards with better P.R.” They eat the flesh of rotting animals. Since some animals die by the hand (or gun, as it were) of hunters, the condors (apparently not the sharpest knives in the drawer) eat lead and die. (Since they are protected under the Endangered Species Act, they are relatively safe from all but really stupid hunters.)

Here’s the thing. Unless I’m missing something, hunters usually grab what they kill. I don’t know too many hunters that leave their kills just lying about to be the main course for a bunch of birds. And if you argue that we’re talking “nuisance” animals, and that hunters don’t retrive coyotes and such that they kill, a smarter way to deal with the problem, I think, would be to force hunters to retrive any animal they do kill, nuisance or not.

Take a look at this site from one of the Environmental crowd. (And remember, any time someone starts trumpeting “diversity” as a virtue, it’s time to warm up the ol’ B.S. detector.) While I love and appreciate nature, I see homo sapiens as firmly entrenched atop the food chain. I don’t want to see any species wiped out, if we can help it. On the other hand, species have been going extinct for millions of years. It happens. And I happen to worry a lot more about man’s extinction than a condor’s. To put it another way, if God didn’t want us to eat them, why did he make animals out of meat? But let’s put all the carnivore talk aside for a second. (Hang on…aren’t condors carnivores? THAT’S weird…) I do have to ask though, if vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat? But I digress…

Once they realized that by killing off nuisance predators, hunters were doing the other animals in the ecosystem a huge favor, the Eco-crowd’s “meet you in the middle” answer was to force hunters to use steel bullets and shot instead of lead. One tiny little problem with this idea…although ingesting steel is not really a brilliant idea, it won’t kill you. Or a condor, for that matter. However, steel bullets don’t deform like lead, nor do they have the mass of lead. So you’ll have the dual problem of less penetration, along with an increased tendency to shoot through-and-through.

Anyway, the truly and colossally stupid part of this argument is that lead actually IS something of a problem with ammo. But not in the way that you think. You see, the lead content in a typical cartridge is not limited to the bullet alone. Nope. Thar’s lead in them thar primer ‘n gunpowder. The lead you shoot out the end of your barrel is easy to recover at a range. The lead particulate matter dispersed when you fire your weapon…is not. Oh, there’s one dandy collection device for the lead in the gunsmoke – your lungs. Not the place you want a lot of lead dust, mind you. But that’s where it will go, should you frequent a range that lacks sufficient ventilation/filtration.

If you go to Midway USA or Cheaper Than Dirt’s sites and look for ammo, you might notice some even-more-expensive-than-regular-ammo they label “clean” ammo. They’re not kidding. This more expensive stuff is virtually lead-free when it comes to lead dust. The bullet content doesn’t really matter – it’s the lead dust that kills you.

Frankly, if the eco-nauts are gonna get up in arms about saving something, I’d rather they start with humans. If they want to protest that all ammo should be clean ammo, I might join that movement. But as long as animals are made of meat, ammo is waaay too expensive, and they care more for buzzards with pedigrees than they do for me, their Earth Day protests won’t have me seeing green, but red.

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