War of words builds over possible regulation of lead bullets

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In the last five days, more than 50,000 people have signed a Sierra Club petition calling on the NRA to abandon its campaign.

“You’d think the NRA would want to protect the bald eagle – the very bird that is in their logo. But, it’s a mistake to expect logical thinking from an organization that constantly attacks policies even their own members support,” said Dan Chu, the organization’s senior director for its wildlands campaign, in a statement. “The truth is that non-toxic ammunition is accessible and effective for hunters and it helps preserve some of the most important parts of our nation’s unique wild heritage.”

Lawmakers have asked the federal government to get involved.

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to encourage hunters not to use lead-based ammo. He did not call for an outright ban, however, as legislation being considered in California would do. 

Since 1991, the agency has outlawed the use of lead ammunition for shooting waterfowl like ducks.

As many as 20 million birds are killed from lead poisoning each year, according to a coalition of conservation organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Bird Conservancy. The poisoning can occur when animals eat from carcasses that have been shot by lead bullets, pick up the pellets on the ground or eat fishing weights, which can look like food.

The groups estimate that hunters shoot more than 3,000 tons of lead into the outdoors each year.

The NRA says that environmental groups cherry-pick those data points.

In May, a federal judge threw out a case from conservation groups to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead bullets and limit their use.