Lead and Legislation

Without lead, we would not be Civil War shooters. The malleable metal is the essential element of black powder bullets for breech loaders and muzzle loaders. In recent years, there has been a rising concern, some of it reasoned and genuine but much of it politically motivated and bordering on the hysterical, on the amount of industrial lead in the environment and the deleterious health effects it might have, especially on children.

I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, and lived in a series of residences which, no doubt, were painted inside and out with lead based paint. As an adolescent in the late 1950s and early 1960s I cast musket balls on a stove in a tiny apartment kitchen, inhaling more than my share of lead fumes. By all accounts I should be addled. Some people who know me no doubt believe I am, but most apparently do not.

The above revelations are not meant, however, as an endorsement of the use of old lead based paint to redecorate your home, or casting minie balls in an unventilated space with your nose over the pot! While I believe it is ludicrous to use lead exposure as an excuse for adolescent ignorance and behavior problems, there is no doubt that ingesting it, especially as dust through the lungs, is not good for you!

Public hysteria about lead exposure, however, often fomented by politicians searching for a simple cause no one will challenge them on, hypochondriacs looking for the latest debilitating disease on the 6 o'clock news or scam artists who see a chance to make a pile on a lawsuit, can severely jeopardize shooting ranges, especially as suburbia sprawls across formerly rural areas. In recognition of this threat The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute Inc. (SAAMI), commissioned a scientific analysis to effectively respond to environmental concerns involving lead at ranges. EA Engineering and Technology Inc. conducted the study, which was based on an extensive review of scientific literature on the environmental mobility of lead in soil and water and the factors controlling lead mobility in soil and water.

The most significant finding of the study is that lead mobility is not likely to be a serious environmental problem for most shooting ranges and that a combination of strategies, based on specific conditions of the range site, are most effective if mobility does need to be controlled.

The report found that "studies published to date indicate a general lack of lead mobility under most environmental conditions." Interestingly, the study points out that "public and regulatory concerns may be based on perceptions rather than scientific understanding."

"This is a scientific report, and its approach and language reflects that," notes Bob Delfay, executive director of SAAMI. "It might be tough reading at times but it contains much valuable information and it is an important addition to the information base on this issue."

The report also covers factors involved in determining lead mobility, chemical factors affecting lead mobility, and lead control options. Suggested lead mobility control techniques include recovery/recycling, control of storm water run-off, plantings, clay liners, lime addition, phosphate addition, addition of other natural or synthetic chemical additives and soil capping. the report cites recovery and recycling , as practiced by the lead pickers at the N-SSA national range at Fort Shenandoah, as likely the most cost- effective approach, although a combination of techniques amy be required in some situations.

"SAMMI is committed to keeping club and range owners informed on this important issue" Delfay said. "We are continuing efforts to identify research needs and obtain additional information to assist range owners and the shooting industry. The study, Lead Mobility on Shooting Ranges, may be ordered from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 11 Mile Hill Road, Newtown, CT 06470, or order by FAX at 203-426- 1087. The report is free to National Shooting Sports Foundation members, $25 for non-members.


A few months ago I reported the welcome and surprising news that Raleigh Boaze, by virtue of his indomitable persistence and dedication, had finally won his long fight to bring antique guns and reproductions of same into Maryland classrooms for educational presentations. A 1996 law effectively amends the short sighted prejudicial legislation which initially prohibited Raleigh and others from using their firearms to illustrate history lessons.

Since that time Raleigh has been actively "spreading the news" on his successful struggle to historical organizations involved with firearms, and has appeared at several Civil War events in Maryland. If you would like to get in touch with Raleigh for information concerning an exemption law in your own state or to hear his story, you may contact him at 1238 Rosemont Drive, Rosemont, MD 21758-9126 tel: 301-834-7488.


As you read this, an election is imminent. During the past four years, there have been a number of threats, real and implied, against the legal ownership of modern firearms by the current administration and its political allies. As I have mentioned in the past, some of this is due to the continuing decline of "rural culture" and rise of "urban culture" in America, but much of it is simply manipulative political cynicism.

The official line is that the administration has no interest in limiting your right to use firearms for legitimate sporting purposes. Gun prohibitionist organizations, however, enthusiastically support each piece of limiting legislation as a step in their crusade to eventually eradicate Americans' rights to own any type of firearms, including muzzle loaders and air rifles!. Should you doubt this, consider the British example, often pointed to as a shining example by Sarah Brady and company. British gun laws, which, ironically, have their origins in post-World War I fears of a "Bolshevik" uprising, began with simple "common sense" registration. Recently, the "shadow prime minister" of the Labor Party, which expects to win the British elections next spring, has proposed that all cartridge guns be outlawed and that antique guns have their locks welded and barrels filled with concrete. This would be the end of muzzle loading target shooting and reenacting in Britain.

Among the new firearms projects scheduled by a reelected Clinton administration (which seems a likelihood as I write these lines in September), is the addition of "taggants" to both black and smokeless powders. The presence of taggants in powder would allegedly assist government agents in tracking down terrorist bombers. In fact, domestic terrorists apparently get a much bigger bang for their buck from common fertilizer than black powder, and foreign thugs appear to have ample supplies of plastic explosive.

What the ballistic or other consequences of the addition of taggants to black powder would be is, at present, unknown. It is unlikely that they would be beneficial to powder stability, effective shelf life, and or user safety. The cost of powder would no doubt rise as well.

As usual, Clinton ally and New York Democratic Congressman "Chucky" Shumer waits in the wings with his perennial "armory" legislation, which would limit your ability to own any firearms and ammunition and would subject your home to inspection by Federal agents who would not need a warrant to violate your privacy.

Remember that your vote is precious -- use it wisely!

© 1996 by Joe Bilby

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