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Lead. It’s a heavy subject nowadays. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) Seriously though, lead is the primary ingredient in ammo. Has been since ammo was invented. But lead poisoning is not just a euphemism for getting shot. It’s also a real, verifiable risk when putting lead out into the environment. So should we Do Something About This, or is it all just another way to try and get rid of guns? The Truth About Lead lies somewhere in the middle…

One of the first things I learned about lead when I started shooting: you really don’t wanna breathe a lot of it into your lungs. A well-ventilated indoor range is a really good idea. Lead poisoning = bad. Clean air = good. In my dad’s youth, house painters used to go mad from the fumes from lead paint. The Feds finally eliminated it as an ingredient, because too many kids ate too many paint chips and as a result, got waaay too sick. Some died. So if lead is not okay in paint, why is it okay in bullets?

Realistically, bullet makers use lead because it’s relatively cheap, especially when compared to other materials. It’s also plentiful, malleable and effective. Good bullets have densely-packed atoms. Lead is all that and a side o’ fries. It’s got more mass than most metals. And the whole point is to kill something, right? I mean, if you’re shooting at anything other than a paper target, why would you care about the side effects of lead? Dead is dead, right?

Well . . . there’s more to it than that. From a “let’s not screw ourselves over” point of view, most cartridges have a certain amount of lead dust mixed in with the gunpowder. It’s lead in it’s gaseous form that is the danger to you and your lungs when you shoot. (Unless, of course, you aim the gun at yourself. At that point, you’ve got bigger problems than breathing lead particulate matter.)

Some ammo (hint: the really expensive kind) is marketed as “clean” ammo. It still uses lead in the bullets, but it reduces the lead in the gunpowder. I’m not sure if this is just marketing (I am a marketing guy, remember) or if it actually makes a difference to anything other than the selling price.

[I’m STILL cheesed about that two percent milk thing. My ex kept buying it instead of whole milk, telling me it was so much healthier for me. One day, I woke up and asked the critical question: “How much butterfat does whole milk have?” A label like “2%” implies that whole milk has a lot more fat in it. Turns out, whole milk has 4% butterfat. So much for all that “health dividend” from drinking far less-tasty milk.]

Of course, the question persists: where does all the lead dust/gas go if it isn’t going into your lungs? The answer should be (but rarely is) into the HEPA filtration system at your local indoor range. The answer is usually closer to “pumped outside into the atmosphere.” Oops.

Of course, even if you had a 100 shooters burning up AR-15s continuously from dawn ’til dusk, 24/7, the amount of lead you pump into the air would be statistically insignificant. But don’t tell Greenpeace that. To the environmental crowd, the only good lead is NO lead.

So if eliminating lead dust and gas keeps all us little Nimrods safe in whilst home, home on the range, what about Bambi and his furry and feathered friends?

The greenies believe that any time animals come into direct contact with lead, it will eventually be fatal. Lemme add two words to that argument: NO, DUH! Geez, guys. The whole point of shooting some harmless woodland creature is to help it take a dirt nap. Assume room temperature. Terminate it with extreme prejudice. K-I-L-L it. That’s what the lead is SUPPOSED to do.

But the greenies aren’t just worried about the efficacy of bullets fired from a gun. Nope. They are also concerned about leftover lead: spent bullets that can be either ingested by some birdbrained bird, or absorbed into the ground water and thus allowed to pollute our streams, rivers and drinking water.

Let me make this water argument perfectly clear. It sounds like a real concern. But it isn’t. There simply ain’t enough lead concentrated in one area to make that kind of a difference in the environment. If Mother Nature was that much of a fragile, senile old bat, she would have croaked long ago. One good volcanic eruption, and she’d a-been toast. The real agenda of the greenies: eliminate guns from private ownership. Period. For them to say otherwise is a lie.

Okay, so we’ve established that the danger is not as severe as “they” would have you believe. But is any risk worthwhile, if we can safely eliminate it?

Well, let’s look at the issue objectively. Are there other materials we can use instead of lead in bullets? Sure: copper, titanium, steel, aluminum, composite materials – there are lots of choices. But every last one of them will jack up the price of ammo. As in by a factor of at least two. Like $30 per (white) box of practice ammo at your friendly neighborhood Mart du Wal? Fergettaboutit. You’ll be lucky to score a box for under $60.

And as any economist will tell you, when prices rise, demand falls. When demand falls, manufacturers’ profits fall. When profits fall, companies fail. Do the math. Oh, and the side dividend of the hijacking of ammo prices would be to deny low-income families the ability to defend themselves. (And you thought liberals and Progressives were on the side of the poor.)

Let’s for a moment assume that lead is (or should) go the way of incandescent light bulbs, DDT, and attractive automobiles made in Detroit. Is banning lead the right way to go? In a word, “Not on your tintype, Lizzie.” (I’m a heavy tipper.) Banning things – any things – is a great way to increase demand, not lower it. If you want to change things, howzabout incentivizing lead alternatives?

As much as I hate encouraging Uncle Sam to further meddle with the free market, a better plan would be to tax the use of lead, and then apply the revenues to reward companies that use alternative materials. Yes, but— the government is hugely inefficient, and can’t pass up the chance to over-regulate and under-deliver.

If Uncle Sam enacts a “lead tax,” there’s no guarantee the money will actually go to price supports for non-lead alternatives. And of course, for every dollar the Feds take in, only a fraction of that actually goes back into the economy. Mostly, it’s eaten up by “administrative costs.” (If the government had to play by the same rules they enforce on non-profits, the tax guys would be in jail for violating their own rules.)

By the by, computer manufacturers are the other big lead users. As you’d expect, politically-correct, bio-diversity-friendly companies like Apple have taken the lead in getting the lead out of their products (mainly in batteries, circuit board solder and glass). But there’s a lot of companies who still use a whole lotta lead. Ban lead, and you’ll see computer prices skyrocket too. Then there’s the lead in automobiles, AA, AAA, C, and D sized batteries . . .

Then there’s another aspect of this lead ammo ban issue to consider. Who buys most of the ammo made today? Anybody? Somebody? Bueller? That’s right . . . you in the back. It’s the military. If the feds pass a law (or rule) to ban lead, would it cover the military? Given the amount of ammo shot by the U.S. military at any given moment, what would eliminating lead from civilian ammunition do to help the environment? (Answer: not much.)

If you eliminate lead from civilian ammo, it will drive up manufacturing costs and make ALL ammo more expensive. This, whilst the country is trying to recover from the worst economy since the Great Depression. While China is busy buying up as much lead, copper and brass as they can get their hands on. (Hmm . . . lead . . .  copper . . . brass? Wonder what you make with that.)

While China and the rest of the People In The World That Want To Kill Us or Subjugate Us laugh their collective asses off at us stupid, obsessively politically-correct Amerikanskis; they’re buying up the raw materials for ammo as if it’s going out of style. (It is going out of style, but only here in the U.S. of A.) And lemme tell ya, there’s not a soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman out there that worries about the moral superiority of the ammo in his gun when he’s in a shooting situation. The only question on their minds is “who’s gonna run outta ammo first?”

The Federal government has a long and hallowed history of screwing things up via legislation that addresses one problem only to cause ten others. (See “TARP fund,” “Cash for Clunkers,” “anything the EPA, OSHA, or Dept. of the Interior has EVER done,” et cetera.) Banning lead would be one more screw-up in the Grand Guignol school of Screw-ups. Perhaps the Mother of All Screw-Ups.

What we really need is to consider ALL the evidence, separate fact from fiction, drain the emotion and politics out of the discussion, and talk about how to make things better without making them worse.

Now that would be one heavy discussion.

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  1. Simply stated, banning lead ammo will accomplish absolutely nothing other than putting a big financial burden on shooters and hunters. The effect a lead ammo ban would have on the environment and wild animals would be about as big as a pimple on a gnats a$$.

  2. The US Army has been experimenting with and even came out with a lead free bullet using a bismuth-tin alloy to replace the 5.56mm used in m4's. The Marine Corp was initially on board but then rejected the Army's new bullet. Now it seems that even the Army has decided that it's not up to snuff.

    Tungsten bullets were experimented with as well, and that didn't go over very well either.


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