So, we’ve all seen the news. President Obama failed to gain nation-wide traction for gun control in early 2013, and since then gun advocates have seen ghosts in almost anything hinting of firearms regulation. Recently there was the closure of the last lead smelting plant; the Doe Run Company, which many feared would leave ammunition manufacturers with no access to the required components and result in ammunition shortages. Now, there is the whispered threat of “green” ammunition that some see as the final nail in the coffin to supplant the current lead-based ammunition market, and make ammunition beyond the financial reach of gun owners, indirectly making it untenable to use or own a gun in America. But as my examination of the closure of Doe Run found, the truth on these issues is usually far less sinister…
So why do people think “green” ammunition is an alternate attempt at gun control? Some view the shifts in the military for a non-lead bullet, the closure of the Doe Run Company, and growing civilian mandates will leave ammunition manufacturers with no viable alternative other than to cease production. Others maintain “green” ammunition is inferior to current lead-based FMJ projectiles, leaving the civilian market flush with expensive ammunition that performs poorly. Of course not to be outdone, some conspiracy theorists go so far as to proclaim that while the Department of Homeland Security and military will maintain recent contracts for large quantities of lead-based ammunition, civilians either won’t be able to afford the new ammunition or it will be inferior as the government prepares for a seven-year war against uprising American people. (Benkn) Of course this is all speculation to the extreme, and the more realistic narrative is that following President Obama’s failure to garner widespread reform to gun control, the alternative for the Administration would be to regulate the ammunition industry to the point it is financially untenable to be a gun owner – as a gun without ammo is merely an expensive club. So there are plenty of narratives that leave the unsuspecting sheep to react to in fear and ignorance.
First we need to understand why the sudden push on “green” ammunition. Recently the military announced by 2018 all ammunition would be environmentally friendly. (Chiaramonte) This was done mainly because the annual discharge of lead-based 5.56 ammunition and other military calibers is environmentally wasteful. Adding to that decision has been the recent economics amid some of the biggest financial military cutbacks in decades called sequestration. Lastly, over the last few years, a handful of states have passed varying legislation specifically to ban lead-based ammunition – specifically California where the Condor is slowly making a return from near-extinction. (Bernstein) Lawmakers in these regions proclaimed that lead-based ammunition resulted in undue lead contamination of animals, as the lead would strike bone or tissue, and then fragment resulting in poisoning of the blood and organs. This then predicated secondary contamination to scavengers or humans eating contaminated tissue. Furthest in legislation, California became the first State to pass AB 711, an outright ban on all lead-based ammunition.
But if we look logically and examine the actual evidence, we can see that the issue of “green” ammunition is actually not as dire as many wolves (on both the left and right) continually trumpet. Central to the “green” ammunition movement is the effort by the military to seek more “environmentally” friendly ammunition. As far back as 1994 the military recognized the need to redesign the M855 lead-based ammunition that had been in use since the early 1970’s. Testing officially began in 2005, with the military settling on a tungsten-based M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round (EPR). But when funding issues arose in 2008, followed by a 2010 study that concluded the initial tungsten EPR lacked penetration, was corrosive to lab animals, and proved to be more water soluble than initially predicted – its 2011 Afghanistan deployment was very limited so the military could gauge its performance in combat. (Fox News) (Lopez) By mid 2013, the military announced it had settled on a viable alternative of the EPR, and was beginning to roll out other versions in the heavier M80A1 7.62 caliber beginning in 2014. (Lowe) The new M855A1 bullet now features a copper jacket and exposed hardened steel penetrator with similar versions expected for the M80A1 as well. (Calloway) So with sufficient time and investment, the military was able to find an alternative to the lead-based ammunition of the 1970’s that offers the same lethality and performance as lead bullets. And while the military is the single largest consumer of ammunition in America, the market typically will follow trends and it is expected that soon the civilian market will follow suit and begin incorporating the new ammunition designs.
But there are also other issues playing into the negative hype on “green” ammunition as a back-door gun control measure, specifically the closure of the Doe Run Company in Missouri. A lot of wolves decried the closure of America’s last lead smelting facility as proof of the Administration’s unofficial gun control efforts. Their aim was not only stir political discourse, but also draw attention to themselves individually. In my analysis of the closure, it was demonstrated that not only was the closure to have little impact on the ammunition market, but even mainstream ammunition manufacturers anticipate little or no impact because roughly 80% of America’s refined lead is already imported from overseas. The final closure of the Doe Run Company was more about environmental regulations through the EPA and the coal industry than anything about ammunition and firearms. There the biggest losers were the employees that suddenly found themselves without employment. You can read my in-depth analysis of the Doe Run closure here.
Lastly, “green” ammunition marks another transition in our society – where technology is challenging historic firearm norms. The trending of a need for a new and environmental-friendly bullet reflects the values we as a people place on our footprint in this world. And much like the incandescent light bulb, there will be a time of market fluctuations as the “old” gives way to the “new”. However, the influences of supply and demand, manufacturers, and consumers will all play into an emergent market of “green” ammunition. Manufacturers will still want to be able to produce a profitable product and, just as the military did, this will require them to find new and innovative designs (if they don’t just outright mimic the military’s new design). Consumers will likewise demand a product that is both cheap and as close to the previous lead-based ammunition as possible.
However, not all transitions are without complications, and this is perhaps where many of the sheep are given into fear and misinformation. California’s Department of Fish & Wildlife, the agency responsible for actually enforcing and investigating such state laws, has gone on record that currently the alternate “green” bullets will not offer them the same defensive capabilities, are more costly than lead-based ammunition, and will dramatically impact the State’s revenue from legal hunting taxes. (Zieralski) In addition, gun-right advocates like the NRA have stated that in areas like California the ban on lead-based ammunition, “Since [the law] took effect, there has been no reduction in lead poisoning of condors, and in fact, Condor blood-lead levels have actually increased even though the vast majority of hunters obeyed the ban. Thus the evidence clearly shows that hunters’ lead ammunition is not the source of lead poisoning in California condors”. (Bernstein)
Another more localized (and surprising) source of misinformation can be a number of gun ranges themselves, whom prohibit steel and aluminum ammunition. Often they cite a variety of “reasons” that actually have nothing to do with any legislation, but rather the economics and policies of the range itself. Spent brass and lead bullets offer an opportunity on recycling revues, and in the instance of brass casings, unless they are devoid of steel or aluminum they are considered “dirty” and given a lower rate of monetary return. In addition, aluminum ammunition heats up differently than brass or lead, often becoming more tactile and results in frequent stovepipes or jamming. This can create a safety issue with new or inexperienced shooters that many range owners feel represent an undue risk. Furthermore, aluminum is not as rigid as brass or steel, and when the bullet strikes the feed ramp enroot to the chamber, the impact can result in “step-back” where the bullet is actually pressed further into the casing and compacting the powder. This can result in higher pressures and potentially create the risk for a catastrophic failure when the round is fired. And lastly, it’s no secret that a majority of steel ammunition is often from third-world countries that have fewer quality controls in their ammunition production. Often in ammunition from these regions the powder can be corrosive or drastically inconsistent and pose the real possibility of a squib round.
The Real Threat to Gun & Ammo Shortages…
The real question here is, what is the greater threat that could possibly force another ammunition shortage or skyrocketing prices? “Green” Ammunition? Closure of Doe Run? Political ramblings in DC? The answer – none of them. Indeed the greatest threat contributing to another run on guns and ammunition, or months of empty gun shelves is right there in the mirror. It’s the sheep that are, for a variety of reasons, so consumed in the gun-regulation hysteria – or told to be from the wolves – that they will rush right out and buy a gun that very day. Think about it like this, if you were told, “Today ammunition as you know it will no longer be manufactured” what would you do? You’d go right out and not only buy as much as you could, but you’d buy in other calibers you don’t even have in an effort to either be able to barter or capitalize on the profit margin that would follow from shortages. And so would every other person that finds such issues important to them. But when the market moves en masse out of suspicion, fear, or media their combined purchasing power is more than the available supply. So while those supplies are consumed at above normal rates, retailers raise their prices in an effort just to maintain some level of inventory in their stock. Thus ammunition manufacturers then have to produce at above-normal rates just to match the market’s demand, that then leads to higher production costs that are also passed on to the consumer. So it’s really a self-fueled fire where misconceptions and hysteria are the principle causes of the very shortages that effect us all.
Two other smaller factors that could influence the price/availability of ammunition amid whispered hysteria of regulations are not as sutble. Firstly, if there were to be another large-scale active shooter incident similar to Sandy Hook Elementary School where high numbers of children are killed. Sandy Hook provided a moment, no matter how fleeting, that a majority of the nation was willing to consider the issue of legitimate gun control. But the wolves on both the left and right, decrying any attempt at a constructive dialogue, very quickly drowned out whatever momentum could have been made in compromising legislation. So such an event, particularly with a 24-hour liberal media that thrives on violence, would immediately garner widespread public attention and offer the Administration and their Progressive followers cause to simply make further changes without the consent of Congress or the People.
Secondly, another factor that could impact the available ammunition supply in America would be another war. It’s difficult to consider given that we’ve been involved with the conflict in Afghanistan now for over a decade, but the United States typically moves on a one-decade cycle of war. In each conflict since the US was founded, when conflict looms, the available ammunition supplies available to the public withers drastically as manufacturers are busy filling government contracts required for military planning. So if politics fails, and we again found our nation embroiled in another conflict expect to the short-term interruption in the available ammunition supply with some notable price increases while manufacturers work to increase supply.
So what could I recommend as a solution when you hear that “ammunition as you know it will forever disappear” because “it’s an attempt by Obama as back-door gun control”? Before you sign a petition, click “Like” or “Share”, or worse run off on your own rant the best thing you can do is take time to do your own research. You may not take my analysis as evidence that the issue of “green” ammunition really is nothing new or that the changes in the ammunition market don’t really threaten gun rights or availability, but if not you owe it to yourself to find out the facts without all the political and misinformation propagated by the wolves. Don’t be that sheep that reacts out of fear and without information – get informed, assess the situation, and then make a plan of action. The overall goal is to promote the facts of guns and gun rights, not perpetuate word of mouth so that you too can provide those with the information they need to make their own decisions.
Benkn, Ralph. “1.6 Billion Rounds Of Ammo For Homeland Security? It’s Time For A National Conversation.” 11-March 2013. Forbes. 29-December 2013 .
Bernstein, Lenny. “With ban on lead in hunters’ bullets, California hopes to protect condors.” 20-October 2013. The Washington Post. 23-December 2013 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/with-ban-on…ondors/2013/10/20/2e375388-3829-11e3-ae46-e4248e75c8ea_story.html>.
Calloway, Audra. “Picatinny ammo goes from regular to unleaded.” 1-July 2013. US Army. 23-December 2013 .
Chiaramonte, Perry. “End of the line for the lead bullet? Regulations, bans force switch to ‘green’ ammo.” 21-December 2013. Fox News. 23-December 2013 .
Fox News. “Army Testing New ‘Green’ Bullets.” 4-May 2013. Fox News. 23-December 2013 <http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2011/05/04/army-demonstrate-new-green-ammo-maryland/>.
Lopez, Todd. “’Green bullet’ as effective as M855 round — consistently.” 6-May 2013. US Army. 23-December 2013 .
Lowe, Christian. “Army Tests New Green Ammo.” 5-May 2011. Military Times. 30-Dec 2013. http://www.military.com/video/ammunition-and-explosives/ammunition/army-tests-new-green-ammo-militarycom-reports/932665226001/.
Zieralski, Ed. “Non-lead only ammo to fly in California.” 30-August 2013. San Diego Union Times. 29-December 2013 .