The Scientific Activist

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day Along with thousands of other bloggers, I’m observing the inaugural Blog Action Day by blogging about the environment today.

We heard some good news out of California on Saturday. Going against pressure from his own party and particularly from the National Rifle Association (NRA), governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 821 (the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act), which outlawed the use of lead ammunition by large game hunters in California within the range of the highly endangered condor.

Although their numbers in the wild are slowly increasing, these majestic birds are still on the brink of extinction. Ingestion of lead ammunition has been directly linked to many condor deaths, and this is perhaps the greatest obstacle facing the successful reintroduction of condors to the wild. From the Center for Biological Diversity:

The California condor is one of the world’s most endangered species. Only 127 of the birds currently fly free in the wild, 70 of them in California. Lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition in carcasses is the leading cause of death for reintroduced condors. Since 1992 at least 12 condor deaths in California have been caused by lead poisoning, and dozens more poisoned condors have required invasive, life-saving chelation therapy to “de-lead” their blood after feeding on lead-tainted carcasses.

Five scientific studies published in 2006 provided overwhelming evidence that the lead poisoning of condors comes from ammunition fragments in carcasses and gut piles left behind in the condor range by hunters. In July 2007 more than 45 prominent wildlife biologists signed a “Statement of Scientific Agreement” concluding that lead ammunition is the primary source of the lead that is poisoning condors.

Despite this and the fact that non-lead bullets are widely available (although somewhat more expensive), many expected Schwarzenegger to veto AB 821 based on some of his recent actions. In particular, Schwarzenegger forced the resignation of moderate Republican Fish and Game Commissioner Judd Hanna on September 13th for compiling a document in support of a ban on lead ammunition. From The Sacramento Bee:

On Sept. 10, Cox and 33 other NRA supporters — led by Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Temecula — sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urging the ouster of Fish and Game Commissioner R. Judd Hanna.

Hanna’s crime? Convinced that lead ammunition is killing condors, he prepared a 167-page document summarizing the evidence and distributed it to his fellow commissioners.

Hanna is hardly a tree-hugger. A Republican from Tehama County, he is a hunter, farmer, former real estate developer and a retired Navy pilot. Schwarzenegger appointed him to a six-year term in February.

Yet because of pressure from his GOP brethren, Hanna resigned Thursday, telling friends he was forced to quit by the Schwarzenegger administration. He continues to defend his position on lead ammo. “The evidence is overwhelming,” Hanna said in his e-mail. “Lead from ammunition is the primary cause of illness and death in the endangered species, California condor.”

You can view state senator Dennis Hollingsworth’s letter to governor Schwarzenegger here. He makes a fairly unimpressive case against Hanna:

For example, [Hanna] recently prepared a 167 page document, largely a compendium of other peoples’ work but with his own personal annotations added throughout, in an effort to support a lead ammunition ban, while his duties as a Commissioner simultaneously required him to impartially consider the issue at this informational hearing. He then distributed the annotated document to the other Commissioners as preparation for the Commission hearing on this subject that was to be held August 27, 2007. When questioned about this at the hearing by a member of the public, he said the document was just for informational purposes. However, his annotations added to the document speak differently.

So, Hanna is being persecuted for being informed? That’s not too compelling. Hollingsworth probably realizes this, so he continues. However, he only manages to build an even less compelling and more irrelevant case against Hanna:

Another fundamental issue is that the Commission is severely unbalanced in its geographic representation of the people of California. There are three Commissioners from the northern part of the state and two from north coastal regions. There are no Commissioners from Southern California where the majority of Californians reside. Fairness dictates there should be representation from the southern portion of the state.

No, fairness dictates that we don’t hold our environmental interests hostage to the whims of an extreme organization like the NRA. It looks like Hanna didn’t want to play ball, so he had to go. I don’t think anyone is buying the spurious premise of this irrelevant geography argument.

Of course, this pales in comparison to the wacky logic that the NRA itself is resorting to. From a recent Washington Post article:

The National Rifle Association is mobilizing members against the bill, calling the link to lead ammo unproved and the alternatives more expensive for hunters.

“Hunting should not be a sport for the rich and famous, as it was during feudal times,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.

Yes, that’s right. According to the NRA, a ban on lead ammunition will set us back a full thousand years.

As absurd as all of this is, Schwarzenegger–contrary to his reputation as an environmentally-minded moderate Republican–caved in to these extreme voices by forcing the resignation of Hanna. He has saved some face here by doing the right thing and signing AB 821 into law, but the true test will be his replacement for Hanna. Will he live up to his name and replace Hanna with another conservation-minded moderate, or will he bow once again to the NRA?

Comments

  1. #1 Mike
    October 15, 2007

    I find it interesting that to you, a group is “extreme” simply for trying to uphold the Constitution. The NRA provides a valuable service to all who love freedom and liberty.

  2. #2 Leukocyte
    October 15, 2007

    … and who love fully automatic assault rifles. Yee Haw! I love constitutionalizin’ critters (and the occasional person) to death!

    But seriously. Most hunters that I know are fairly conservation-minded people, and don’t see the need for lead ammo or machine guns for the sport. The NRA is pretty extreme in their stance that ANY restriction on firearms is a constitutional attack and an attack on outdoorsmen.

  3. #3 Jagermann
    October 16, 2007

    Schwarzenegger really must be an idiot. He thinks it is worth throwing away the second amendment to save some birds. That is pethetic.

    Leukocyte, fully automatic assault rifles have been severely restricted since 1934. You must be one of those nimrods that actually believed that the ‘assault weapons ban’ had to do with restricting full autos. It only banned semi-auto weapons based upon comsmetic features and appearances that looked ‘scary’

    And as far as lead ammo, every hunter and target shooter I know uses lead ammo. You must not really know any hunters. Target shooters generally use Full Metal Jackets, which are lead bullets jacketed with copper. Hunters use Soft Points, which are basically a FMJ with an exposed lead tip. This is the best option for hunting due to the stopping power these bullets have. You do not want a bullet that will just zip through the animal and only injur it. You want to kill it quickly so it doesn’t suffer or run off and die someplace that you can’t find it.

    The alternative would be steel-core ammo, which is intented for peircing armoured vehicles, and is useless for hunting. BUT UH OH! California banned those already too. I suppose you can still use rubber or perhaps even wooden bullets….

  4. #4 Robster, FCD
    October 16, 2007

    “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

    What in this amendment suggests that hunters have the right to lead ammo?

    Being a responsible hunter means being a steward of the environment, and that includes condors (and many other non waterfowl birds affected by lead). How inconvenienced are you going to be by paying a little more per bullet (with cost going down with economies of scale)? Arizona hunters were happy with non lead bullets, and 72% would recommend them to other hunters. Such non lead bullets tend to be copper or a copper/tin mixture, and are reported to offer clean kills.

    As the NRA goes, they are not a pro hunter organization. They are a pro gun and ammunition manufacturer group. The NRA has convinced hunters that their rights are under assault, which is a myth. My ability to hunt has never been infringed upon, but as a muzzleloader hunter, anybody who needs more than one shot needs to spend more time at the target range.

    What did the assault weapon ban include?

    Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

    * Large capacity ammunition magazines
    * Folding or telescoping stock
    * Conspicuous pistol grip
    * Bayonet mount
    * Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
    * Grenade launcher

    Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

    * Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
    * Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or silencer
    * Barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold
    * Unloaded weight of 50 oz or more
    * A semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm

    Semi-automatic shotguns with two or more of the following:

    * Folding or telescoping stock
    * Pistol grip
    * Fixed capacity of more than 5 rounds
    * Detachable magazine

    That isn’t simply weapons that “looked scary.” If you think that you need these options to hunt, or even for self defense, you are a nut.

  5. #5 Mike
    October 16, 2007

    The 2nd Amendment does not directly deal with hunting. A law that bans lead bullets for hunting (as long as lead bullets are still available for purchase) would not run afoul of the 2nd Amendment.

    The 2nd Amendment simply ensures that the citizenry of the US will be sufficiently armed to wage a resurrection against a tyrannical government. To do this, the Amendment prohibits government restrictions on light arms. So while hunting may use light arms, the 2nd Amendment does not apply.

  6. #6 Jagermann
    October 16, 2007

    Dear Robster,

    Banana clips, folding stocks, bayenet mounts, pistol grips, barrel shrouds, ect. ARE comsetic features. They make guns look more military like, though they still function the same as any other semi-automatic hunting rifle. Why in the world should guns be banned merely by appearance? This is ridiculous. And as far as self-defense goes, any criminal is not going to stop using these weapons because they are banned. It simply makes them more desirable. Why should I be limited to what weapons I can own, while gangs run the streets with full autos UZIs?

    Also you just posted the second amendment. What part of the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed do you not understand? These militia style weapons are exactly the type the founding fathers sought to protect. They did not intend for technological advancements in weaponary to mean abolishment of the second amendment.

    Thomas Jefferson said, “No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

    The second amendment has nothing to do with hunting or sporting purposes. Restricting what ammo and guns people are able to use or own is just another step towards tyranny.

  7. #7 Robster, FCD
    October 17, 2007

    Jagermann,

    Restricting what ammo and guns people are able to use or own is just another step towards tyranny.

    Slippery slope argument. Nice. Never heard that one before. Any other logical fallacies from the gun manufacturing lobby, NRA? How about DU bullets? Does not having those on the market limit your freedom?

    Being able to buy lead bullets has nothing to do with a slide towards tyranny. Restricting hunting bullets to non-lead only is, in no way, a violation of the second amendment. It is a reasonable step for normal, conservation minded hunters to preserve the rarest of what nature has to offer. Only outdated ammo manufacturers would have something to fear.

    Banana clips, folding stocks, bayenet mounts, pistol grips, barrel shrouds, ect. ARE comsetic features. They make guns look more military like, though they still function the same as any other semi-automatic hunting rifle.

    So a hunter would purchase a gun based on looks instead of performance? I’m looking at buying a bullpup style rifle for target shooting. Not because of how they look, but because of the accuracy a bullpup offers over standard designs.

    What are the purposes of those features from the ban? Do you really buy the line that they are only cosmetic? Banana clips carry more bullets than any person not intent on killing people would possibly need. Folding stocks make a full size rifle more concealable, but more importantly, usable in close in fighting at the cost of accuracy, as do pistol grips on shotguns. What is the purpose of threaded barrels? Attaching flare suppressors, silencers, etc. What conceivable need does a private citizen have for this feature? It happens to be completely inconspicuous without inspection of the barrel, not a cosmetic addition. The purpose of these features is what is important, not how they make a gun look. Your claim is a PR line, not the reality of the situation.

    And as far as self-defense goes, any criminal is not going to stop using these weapons because they are banned.

    and

    Why should I be limited to what weapons I can own, while gangs run the streets with full autos UZIs?

    You don’t need those features for self defense. But the use of those weapons in crimes has gone up since the the ban elapsed, so your claim that criminals won’t use them if banned is false. Because a criminal can is a pretty poor reason for doing anything, but that doesn’t stop the NRA from making it.

    They did not intend for technological advancements in weaponary to mean abolishment of the second amendment.

    What part of a well regulated militia do you not understand? Are tanks, fighter jets, grenades, etc are protected by the second amendment? This isn’t about abolishing the second amendment. It is about limiting access to a specific kind of weapon that has no use for a private citizen beyond violence.

  8. #8 Mike
    October 18, 2007

    Red herring alert! Tanks and fighter jets have nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment. The phrase “to bear arms” refers to light weapons that can be easily carried by a soldier. Tanks and fighter jets would not be included under any reasonable understanding of the 2nd Amendment. Rather nukes and tanks are thrown out as red herrings by the gun control nuts in order to scare monger.

  9. #9 Robster, FCD
    October 23, 2007

    Mike,

    Perhaps it is a red herring (not my purpose, rather it was to point out the weak rationale for demanding access to features that Jagerman referred to as cosmetic), but so is the claim that limiting access to guns with certain features is akin to abolishing the second amendment. I am no gun control nut. I am a hunter and skilled marksman who supports common sense regulations on gun and ammo manufacturers.

    The thought that anyone would need any of the prohibited features from the assault weapons ban for hunting or even self defense is silliness. Are they even needed to support a rebellion against a tyrannical government? If tanks and air support aren’t necessary, then neither are said features in the early stages of such a sad state.

    Man portable may be a historical standard, but how useful is it today? Surely there is a reasonable middle ground acceptable to all but the no-gun-groups and all-gun-groups.

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