Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Scares about government gun bans are often just that — mere scares.

But a recent petition made to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the potential to become much more than a scare. It wouldn’t do away with guns, but it’d do away with a lot of ammunition.

Environmental advocacy groups have petitioned EPA chief Lisa Jackson to ban the use of lead bullets, lead shot and lead fishing sinkers on the grounds that the continued use of lead violates the 1976  Toxic Substance Control Act.

The petition (available for review in PDF format at the EPA website) argues that lead shot and lead bullet fragments routinely poison scavengers, songbirds, predatory birds, waterfowl and some mammals. It cites valid scientific studies and makes a pretty fair case for the EPA to mandate non-toxic ammunition.

But to grant the petition and enact a lead ban, the EPA would literally have to ignore the very law the petitioners cite as the rationale for the ban. When Congress passed the Toxic Substance Control Act back in 1976, they specifically exempted lead ammunition.

No problem, say the petitioners. They argue, in essence, that the law refers to cartridges and shells, and not specifically to bullets or shot. They further argue that since bullets and shot are sold individually as ammunition components, they therefore fall under the Toxic Substance Control Act and can be banned by EPA regulation.

It is a sign of the times, I suppose, when perfectly clear legal language can be parsed into something completely contradictory to its original intent.

The EPA has until Nov. 1 to rule on the petition.

Update: Late today, with more than two months left in the petition’s comment period, EPA officials abruptly and unexpectedly rejected the petition. Story is here, from U.S. News and World Report.