A Four-Letter Word

When noise complaints don't work, antis cry "Lead!"

The florida department of Environmental Protection's 138 sworn officers in the Division of Law Enforcement recently switched to no-lead ammunition. Duty sidearms for DLE officers are Glock Model 21SF .45s, with Glock 30SF .45s for investigative and undercover work. Annual training expends some 30,000 rounds of .45 ammo. Why no lead?

"Lead-based ammunition can cause soil and groundwater contamination," DLE Director Henry Barnet stated in a press release. "With this change, the division is increasing its conservation efforts at firing ranges and practice sites'¦"

Yet when asked by Handguns if DLE ranges have any lead contamination, especially in groundwater, agency press secretary Terri Durdaller admits no such contamination exists. So why make the change—especially when non-lead handgun ammo is one-third more expensive than lead?

"Florida depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply, and on surface water for the outdoor recreation industry," Durdaller says. "High rainfall and acidic conditions, typical in Florida, cause lead to be more mobile in the environment'¦"

"Their actions are a mystery to me," says Rick Patterson, National Association of Shooting Ranges director. "There's no science to back this up. The lead is there [at DLE shooting ranges], obviously. But metallic lead is actually pretty inert."

Yes, lead can severely damage the human body, with children particularly at risk. Lead poisoning can kill you. However, the lead needs to be inhaled, swallowed or otherwise ingested. Lead as a human health issue came to the forefront decades ago thanks to research on leaded paints and gasoline, but as Patterson points out, the liquid lead compounds found in paint and gasolines are a far cry from lead bullets.

Scientists at Virginia Tech studied lead bullets on battlefields ranging from 18th century sites to the present. Despite literally hundreds of years of exposure to the elements, the projectiles were quite well-preserved. Turns out, a protective, relatively insoluble coating soon forms around spent lead bullets.

Patterson adds that even in more acidic soils, where the breakdown of lead might be expected, clay and organic materials usually absorb the metal.

"By and large," Patterson says, "lead contamination at outdoor shooting ranges just isn't an issue."

Increasingly, though, it's a political issue. Ask the 400 families that are members of the Ashland Gun Club in Ashland, OR. The club has been a fixture there for more than 40 years. But when its lease came up for renewal (the club is located on city-owned land), complaints about noise surfaced. Then opponents said the range was an environmental problem. Not surprisingly, a study found lead in club berms and soil, leading range opponents to claim the area was "contaminated."

"The environmental assessments are driven by the alarmists and anti-gunners, of which there are many in this community," says Lee Tuneberg, acting secretary of the club. "They are slow to listen to scientific facts about lead but are quick to grasp at solutions that meet their no-shooting agenda."

Another study is now looking for lead contamination in groundwater. In the meantime, the club was given a one-year lease extension.

"Every single complaint about lead as an environmental problem at a shooting range started life as a noise complaint," says Patterson. "When they found out they couldn't shut the range down over noise issues, they suddenly discovered a problem with lead contamination."

Unfortunately, these claims of potential lead contamination from shooting ranges are only exacerbated when government agencies suggest that switching to no-lead ammunition averts a problem—even when the problem doesn't exist.

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