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California Bans Lead Bullets: Protecting the environment or anti-gun agenda?

On October 11, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 711, banning lead ammunition for hunting in California. The bill requires the Fish and Game Commission to promulgate regulations on lead ammunition by July 1, 2015, and those regulations to be fully implemented statewide no later than July 1, 2019.[i] The Humane Society, Audubon California, and Defenders of Wildlife sponsored the bill in response to the danger that lead bullets pose to wildlife, specifically the endangered Californian condor.[ii] The bill states that fifty years of research has shown that the presence of lead in the environment poses an ongoing threat to the health of the general public and the viability of the state’s wildlife species.[iii] Most scientists and conservationists agree that lead is the primary threat to the lives of condors. Data for the studies came from captive-bred birds equipped with radio transmitters, captured and tested annually.[iv] Proponents of the Bill, including Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity, believe that switching to nontoxic ammunition will not only save the lives of thousands of birds every year, but will also decrease toxic lead exposure for hunters and their families.[v]

The Bill expands upon previous regulation in California which has not been as successful as the state hoped. In 2008, California passed The Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act and related regulations which required hunters to use non-lead ammunition for all hunting within the central and Southern California condor range.[vi] Unfortunately, the problem persisted. A 2012 study by the University of California at Santa Cruz found that “30 percent of blood samples taken from condors each year showed levels of lead high enough to cause significant health problems and that 20 percent of the free-flying birds required treatment to remove lead.”[vii] However, as noted by the Center for Biological Diversity, the previous regulations demonstrate that hunters can easily transition to hunting with non-lead ammunition since there had been no decrease in game tags or hunting in the affected counties over the last five years.[viii]

The new Bill elicited strong opposition from California Game Wardens, hunters, and the National Rifle Association, who believe the legislation infringes on 2nd amendment rights. Opponents argue that the previous ban in the use of lead ammunition in the condor’s range did not lower levels of lead poisoning and the new ban is, therefore, scientifically unfounded.[ix] Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA, has responded that no connection of lead poisoning to ammunition has been proven, stating that “condors could be picking up lead from paint, junkyards or other sources.”[x] The National Rifle Association additionally complains that copper bullets cost more than lead bullets, and don’t fly the same.[xi] Don Saba, a member of the NRA board of directors with a doctorate in toxicology, questioned the science behind the bill and stated that California has an anti-firearm mentality with the ultimate goal of banning guns.[xii]

Although this constitutes the most extensive ammunition ban in the United States, it is merely an additional step in the long history of recognizing the danger that lead ammunition poses to wildlife. In Governor Brown’s signing message, he stated that this bill is a response to a danger that has been known for a long time. The first report about the danger of lead poisoning to wildlife was by George Bird Grinnell in 1894.[xiii] California is not an exception to the rest of the nation’s view on this important issue. Governor Brown explains that in 1991 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned lead in waterfowl hunting across the nation, and at least 30 other states regulate lead ammunition in some manner.[xiv] In addition, over the past 30 years, lead has been banned in gasoline, paint, new home pipes and other materials, in order to protect public health.[xv]

Governor Brown, as well as the California legislature, also emphasized that this bill is meant to protect Californians, not threaten their right to bear arms. The Bill states that “California’s wildlife species represent the state’s rich natural resources and environmental health and beauty,” and “California’s wildlife species play an important role in the state’s environmental health.”[xvi] Governor Brown further explained that he had only decided to sign the bill after amendments that better protected hunting interests were added, including an ability of the Director of Fish and Wildlife to suspend the statewide ban in the event that the federal government prohibits non-lead ammunition because it is considered armor piercing.[xvii]

This Bill tackles a significant problem that threatens many species of birds and other wildlife in California. Although this new and extensive ban on a commonly-used ammunition will place a burden on Californian hunters, they are not left without other options. Additional types of non-toxic ammunition are available at reasonable prices, and since California constitutes such a large market, it is likely that prices will become increasingly competitive as the legislation comes into effect.  Hunters point to protecting tradition; however, reducing lead in the Californian wilderness will not only protect the health of the environment, but public health as well.


-Chelsea Thomas is a General Member on MJEAL. She can be reached at


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors only and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law or the University of Michigan.

[i] H.R. 711, Cal.  Fish and Game Code §3004.5 (2013).

[ii] Paul Rogers, Ban on lead bullets pushed for all hunting in California, Oakland Tribune (2013),

[iii] H.R. 711.

[iv] Lenny Bernstein, With ban on lead in hunters’ bullets, California hopes to protect condors, Wash. Post (2013),

[v] Jeff Miller, California Makes History in Banning Lead Hunting Ammunition, Ctr. for Biological Diversity (2013),

[vi] Id.

[vii] Bernstein, supra.

[viii] Miller, supra.

[ix] Jerry Karnow and Gary Schales, Re:AB 711 (Rendon): Non-lead ammunition for hunting, California Fish and Game Wardens’ Ass’n, (2013),

[x] Bernstein, supra.

[xi] Rogers, supra.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Signing Message H.R. 711 (Cal. 2013).

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Rogers, supra.

[xvi] H.R. 711.

[xvii] Brown, supra.

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