NRA's Enemy List Misses the Mark: Should Be Firing on Lead, Not Zoos and Conservationists


It seems that a gaggle of zoos, conservation groups and NRDC have somehow landed on the National Rifle Association's latest "enemies list" over what they perceive as a threat to access to ammunition.

We don't have a problem with bullets or with hunting. We have a problem with lead: Lead in gas, lead in paint, lead in the air. If there's an enemy here, it's lead, a toxin that threatens hunters, wildlife and the environment. (As an aside, who puts out public enemy lists these days anyway? Didn't Richard Nixon give that sort of thing a bad name?)

And in California, lots of folks have a problem with the state's namesake condors keeling over dead from lead poisoning. The effort to reintroduce critically endangered California condors has been hamstrung, in part, by mortalities associated with scavengers feeding off of carcasses that contained lead shot. Lots of time and energy (and tax money) has gone into the conservation effort to keep North America's largest terrestrial birds on the landscape and it is undercut by the threat of continued lead poisoning.

But the issue is not unique to the condors. Studies show elevated lead levels in Yellowstone grizzly bears' blood during hunting season. And this is an issue for any other animal likely to ingest lead shot from scavenged carcasses across the United States. Additionally, thousands of tons of lead shot make their way into American waters where they threaten aquatic life.

And if anyone doubts that lead is dangerous, there are reams of scientific health studies documenting the toxic impacts of lead on humans. In the same way that lead is poisonous to condors, grizzlies, eagles and swans, it is poisonous to us, especially our kids. That's why lead has been virtually eliminated from the products we use every day—we don't even have lead in pencils anymore.

So why is the NRA getting into such a tizzy about concern over lead ammunition left littering the landscape? This shouldn’t be controversial, especially with non-lead alternative ammunition (mostly copper and copper alloy bullets) offering equal or superior performance compared to bullets made with lead.

Better performance, less poisonous… What’s not to like?

Well, nothing, unless you're trying to manufacture a controversy…on the backs of pandas, condors and zoo animals.

It's hard to tell what the NRA is thinking here, in part because the Web site they've built for the campaign,, has been down for "scheduled maintenance" since Wednesday afternoon. (Actually, I just checked again and I can't even connect to the site now.) This long outage is strange given the fact that the site is less than a week old. Perhaps they are rethinking the campaign?

Photo credit: According to the Institute for Wildlife Studies, newer alternatives made of either 100% copper or copper-zinc alloys exist that expand similarly to lead-core bullets but without the extensive fragmentation.