Lead Ammo Ban Could Create Wildfire Risks

on . Posted in Faulty Science, Latest News

Determined to push a flawed bill through the legislature, California Assemblyman Anthony  Rendon is ignoring a dangerous fire hazard consequence of his own legislation, which is intended to ban hunters’ use of traditional lead-based ammunition.  Rendon was recently confronted with information showing that his Assembly Bill (AB) 711 may result in an increased number of wildfires in California.  He responded by displaying his ignorance about firearms, while questioning “the sincerity of this argument[.]”

Sparks and heat from impacting copper and steel bullets create a greater fire risk than softer lead bullets, which are much less likely to ignite leaves or brush.  This information, however, is not new.  Boy Scouts know not to use steel ammunition in dry areas, most gun ranges prohibit its use, and there is published science indicating that softer projectiles (i.e., lead-based) are preferable to those that are more likely to start a fire, e.g., those made from steel or copper. 

Instead of actually considering the human, ecological, and financial risks related to the fire danger issue, Rendon dismissed the topic, showing not only his disregard for hunters, but his lack of knowledge of how firearms work.  In response to a media inquiry about the ignition issue, he said:   

“I would be more convinced of the sincerity of this argument if the author expressed concern about ANY situation involving the ignition of gunpowder near areas that are vulnerable to fire . . . . Arguably, expulsion of hot brass casings that are not properly policed or any irresponsible behavior related to human activity in the outdoors such as smoking provide an equally concerning threat to state fire safety . . . . ”

It is especially disheartening that Rendon chooses to question the “sincerity” of a public servant, Michelle Orrock, who raised the ignition issue as part of her duties with the Cosumnes Community Services District in Sacramento County.  Ms. Orrock’s job duties include setting policy and managing the budget of a large fire district, and her comments arose because she believes AB 711 could increase both fire danger and firefighting costs.

AB 711 is based on the hotly contested theory that California condors (Condors) eat lead bullet fragments allegedly present in the “gut pile” of game left behind by hunters, resulting in Condors ingesting lead and being poisoned.  That assertion is disputed for several reasons, not the least of which is that even though California adopted a limited lead ammunition ban in 2008 for California’s “Condor Zone,” and even though there has been a 99.9% compliance rate, Condor blood-lead levels have not gone down since the lead ban was implemented.  There are also unresolved questions as to why certain researchers are claiming their publications provide the science to justify AB 711, while at the same time those researchers will not provide the public access to the data they have collected on the supposed Condor-lead causal link.

Regardless, without lead-based ammunition available for hunters, the only options left are bullets made out of harder metals or alloys.  But most bullets made of harder metals (e.g., copper, steel, etc.), are considered to be illegal “armor-piercing” bullets.  Though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has been asked to resolve this issue, much of the non-lead ammunition that is publicly available will likely be illegal under federal law.

In any event, according to Rendon, because the person raising the fire danger issue did not discuss every possible source of wildfires, her argument is invalid.  Is Rendon intentionally missing the point? You do not need to discuss every possible fire threat to make a convincing argument that AB 711 has the potential to cause wildfires that would not happen but for hunters’ compliance with AB 711.

Rendon’s comments also suggest that this politician, who represents a district without any recognized hunting grounds, is actively hostile toward hunting.  Indeed, for Rendon to equate hunting with “any irresponsible behavior” strongly suggests that Rendon does not care how AB 711 will affect hunters.  At the least, his comment about “ANY situation involving the ignition of gunpowder” suggests that he is trying to convince the public that the controlled reaction that happens inside a firearm creates a fire hazard.

Rendon also mis-represents Ms. Orrock’s position, creating a ridiculous strawman argument.  After incorrectly criticizing Ms. Orrock for not discussing every possible fire threat under the sun, he goes on to make this bizarre argument: If Ms. Orrock is concerned that mandatory non-lead ammunition use would present an increased fire risk, “[w]ould her argument then be to ban all hunting, hiking and camping because of the potential threat of causing a wildfire?”  Apparently, to Rendon, it is an all or nothing proposition; either everything with the capability to cause a fire should be outlawed, or nothing should be. 

Rendon is clearly using a logical fallacy in creating such a false, black-and-white dichotomy, and perhaps engaging in political gamesmanship.

Rendon’s dismissive attitude and failure to directly respond to criticism of AB 711 shows the public that it should think twice about supporting this ill-conceived legislation when the bill’s author would rather score political points than deal with the merits of the bill.  



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