California’s environmental movement has been pushing for the use of eco-friendly ammunition for years, and they finally got it with a state law mandating a phase-out of lead shot. The goal is to reduce the amount of lead in the environment — if people are going to be using guns in a state where hunting is a widespread and popular activity, they should be doing so with the environment in mind (though many of course argue that seeing an overall drop in hunting in the long term in favor of more animal-friendly recreation and food sources would be a better end goal). Even the army’s going environmentally friendly.
Where advocacy leads, state regulations eventually follow, and California is no exception. The state has been slowly preparing for the transition to green ammunition, and now, advocates say it’s time to start phasing in the law requiring the use of environmentally-friendly ammunition across the state. Why the move? Because such ammunition is finally readily available statewide, removing barriers to purchasing it and making it easy for people to make the switch. Hunters opposed to the switch no longer have inaccessibility as an excuse, and those who have been on board all along have some gloating rights.
You might think that hunters are a pretty unlikely group of environmentalists. After all, they spend their time traipsing around in the woods shooting animals, and when they’re not doing that, they’re mounting taxidermy or exchanging stories over the campfire. But in fact, hunters have a serious investment in environmental welfare, and some are active participants in programs to keep nature beautiful — because they love the natural environment and all it has to offer.
Groups like Ducks Unlimited, for example, have their roots in hunting and are heavily supported by hunters. Others, sadly, use the environment as a beard to protect destructive practices like snowmobiling, focusing on viewing the environment as their playground, rather than a treasure to be preserved and protected.
As California prepares to put hunters and other ammunition-purchasers to the test, the state is facing some challenges when it comes to pushing opponents to adopt lead-free ammunition.
For those stores that are carrying limited amounts of lead-free ammunition, many are actually waiting for the law to come into force, concerned about stock, supply and demand. They want to ensure that they’ll be able to move product off the shelves, and they are prepared to work with their distributors on stocking it as the law is finally enforced. Thus, even more options will open up to hunters as soon as the state pulls the trigger, so to speak, on the new law, but right now, it creates a strange double bind as buyers look for green ammunition and can’t find it in their areas.
For those who are slow adopters, the change may lead to stockpiling lead ammunition and holding out as long as possible. So, how can the state incentivize the switch? One obvious approach involves public outreach about the environmental benefits of going green, but also about the minimal impact on hunting and other gun sports. People opposed to such ammunition are worried it will change the feel and experience, and that it may make shooting less enjoyable, less efficient and less effective. The state needs to demonstrate that gun owners won’t experience a change with green ammunition to show them that the switch will be painless and easy, while promoting green ammunition as another aspect of responsible gun ownership.
Another option could include buyback programs, which would encourage those attached to their old lead ammunition to sell it to the state for safe disposal and get cash in exchange to get started with green ammunition. Swap programs are another option; for a set period, such as six months, the state could encourage hunters to bring in their old lead ammunition and get green bullets in exchange. This would get lead ammo out of the woods and off the range, and into the hands of firms that could safely and efficiently dispose of it, keeping the environment cleaner.
Trial packs could be another consideration. While the idea of handing out free ammunition might seem like anathema to those concerned about gun culture in the United States, gun owners could be encouraged to try green ammunition at the range or the start of hunting season to get a feel for it, without an obligation. This would also address feelings of resentment from some hunters who might be angry about government intervention or what they feel are attacks on their civil rights — instead, the state would be meeting them in the middle with an olive branch. (And if they choose to shoot down the dove of peace, well, at least they won’t be doing it with lead shot.)
Photo credit: Yarden Sachs.