Going Unleaded

This ammo pinch isn't being felt by U.S. law enforcement--yet--but demand's definitely growing for non-lead and frangible ammunition.

Photo by Elyse Harrell.

Last summer, Chief Gary Crowell of the Halton Regional Police Service, Oakville, Ontario, bought up as much no-lead, frangible handgun ammunition as he could, "after receiving news that an international shortage of the sought after [ammunition] could soon limit the supply available," the Oakville Beaver reports.

Though it cut into his budget, Crowell authorized the purchase of an unprecedented 500,000 rounds of training ammunition, because, according to media reports, there's an international shortage of lead-free ammunition as U.S. military and law enforcement agencies increasingly turn to this training-ammo option.

This ammo pinch isn't being felt by U.S. law enforcement--yet--but demand's definitely growing for non-lead and frangible ammunition.

"A lot more law enforcement officers have been brought on board since 9/11," says Glenn Weeks, Winchester Ammunition's centerfire product manager. "And their training requirements have gone up. The frangible ammunition is used primarily for close-quarters training, where you don't want the worry of splash-back from a duty round."

Made of compressed tin and other materials, frangible rounds break up on impact, especially on steel targets.

"We're seeing more of it, particularly in shoot houses," says Rick Patterson, facilities director of the National Association of Shooting Ranges. "Effective [law enforcement] training requires better simulation of real-world environments and shoot houses do this, especially with room-to-room scenarios."

More ranges are simply going the no-lead route, too, requiring frangible ammunition with no-lead primers. In December 2005, for example, the Lee County Sheriff's Department opened the Lee County Gun Range, Fort Myers, Florida. An indoor facility, the range is strictly no lead.

"Everything we use here is frangible" and no lead, explains Lt. Shane Hingson of the sheriff's department training division. That's for the many law enforcement agencies and civilian shooters. Though frangible is up to 40 percent more costly than traditional ammo, Hingson says the savings in range cleanup and lead disposal costs outweigh that increase. He adds, "There are only a couple ranges around here that are still using lead ammunition."

Civilian shooters at Lee County Gun Range have to buy the facility's frangible ammunition, sold in .357 Sig, .38, .380, 9mm, .40 and .45 handgun calibers. Hingson's had no trouble buying all the no-lead ammo the range and department require.

Weeks, though, says it's possible some police departments can't get enough of this ammunition, "especially in the high-volume law enforcement calibers, 9mm and .40 Smith & Wesson." But it's not because of a frangible "bottleneck."

"Ammunition has been hard to get," Weeks explains. "That really doesn't have to do with the fact that it's frangible or lead-free. It just has to do with the growing demand, in general, for ammunition."

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