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September 10, 2013

If Lead Ammo is Ultimately Outlawed in California, Are We to Believe that the Humane Society of the U.S. Will Suddenly Support Hunting?

The recent opinion piece in the San Diego Union Tribune, “Lead poisoning a threat to wildlife” by the head of a national animal rights organization was the latest ploy in a propaganda campaign forged by those seeking to end hunting and fishing in the United States. In this piece, Wayne Pacelle of the anti-hunting Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) conveniently omits several key concerns with Assembly Bill 711 a bill to ban traditional lead ammunition that passed the California State Senate in a 27-15 vote on Monday. That bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

This onerous legislation has united a coalition of hunting organizations, labor unions, manufacturers and taxpayer advocates in opposition. Can anyone seriously believe the HSUS will find hunting acceptable if hunters are forced to use alternative non-lead ammunition? What is AB 711 about really?

As the voice of America’s firearms and ammunition, hunting and sporting industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation supports the right of hunters to choose alternative ammunition, and manufacturers offer such products in response to consumer demand. Currently, alternative metal ammunition only accounts for just 1 percent of the ammunition market.

Alternative ammunition made with brass can be classified as armor piercing ammunition that is illegal to make, sell or possess unless the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) grants special permission. As HSUS knows, ATF refuses to grant manufacturers the needed waivers to produce and provide alternative ammunition. This is one key reason why every major hunting organization in California and nationwide understand that an enacted AB 711 would amount to ban on hunting.

Proponents misleadingly claim alternative hunting ammunition will be readily available. Even leaving aside the ATF issue, the fact is that alternative supplies will not be widely available to meet the needs of hunters in California if AB 711 becomes law. What will be available is substantially more expensive than traditional ammunition.

World commodity prices for alternative metals are very high and, when coupled with supply restrictions, will drive the consumer price up to 190% above traditional ammunition, and thereby effectively price many hunters out of the woods. California’s hunting license revenue will correspondingly plummet, a concern articulated by the California Department of Finance in its analysis of AB 711.

If signed by the governor, this bill will also cost California millions in lost revenue including federal wildlife conservation funding. Since 1937, the sale of ammunition and firearms used by hunters, sport shooters, and gun owners has been subject to an 11% federal Pittman-Robertson excise tax that is the primary source of wildlife conservation (both game and non-game) funding in the United States.

In 2012, California received more than $12 million in Pittman Robertson funds, ranking it one of the top five state beneficiaries. AB 711’s de facto hunting ban will drastically reduce California’s share of Pittman Robertson funds and critical revenues from hunting license sales as hunters are driven out of the woods or hunt in other states. The very ammunition the bill’s proponents demonize is what pays for wildlife and habitat conservation.

AB 711 proponents point approvingly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulation restricting the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting. But the USFWS regulation is based on scientific concerns of a specific wildlife population impact. Managing wildlife populations is the touchstone of wildlife management. California’s hunters know AB 711 is not based on sound science of an adverse population impact. Instead, it is designed to advance its supporters’ anti-hunting agenda. Wildlife management decisions should be made by the professionals in the fish and game agencies based on science, not the HSUS’s animal “rights” politics.

Several years ago these same animal rights groups succeeded in enacting a ban on traditional ammunition in the California condor range based on “isotope” studies the validity of which has been called into serious question. Not surprisingly, despite nearly 100 percent hunter compliance with the ban, condors are still ingesting lead from paint chips, tire weights, car batteries and other items of urban trash, euphemistically called “microtrash”. These birds are still getting sick from other sources of lead.

Leaving aside the junk science underlying the condor range ban, proponents have failed to identify a single species population being adversely impacted outside the condor range. Instead they resorted to fabricated and utterly baseless claims of supposed human health risks posed by traditional ammunition. However, as HSUS knows, there has never been a single case anywhere in the United States of elevated lead levels due to consuming game harvested using traditional ammunition.

Mr. Pacelle represents a group with a clear anti-hunting agenda, and hiding behind a created issue to further his narrow cause. Hunting, sport shooting and traditional ammunition provide tremendous benefit to California’s economy and conservation funding. We are urging Governor Brown to veto this legislation.

Larry Keane is senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @lkeane.

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