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Friday, Oct 11 2013 01:30 PM

California becomes first state to ban lead ammo for hunting

By LAURA OLSON, The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — California has become the first state to ban lead bullets for all types of hunting after Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday over objections from firearms and sporting groups.

The Democratic governor said in a signing message that lead ammunition poses a threat to wildlife, noting that the state has prohibited it in eight counties within the California condors’ range since 1997.

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Gene Thome, owner of Bear Mountain Sports, was not happy when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill banning lead ammo in California. And despite Brown’s veto of a proposal to ban the sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, Thome was in no mood Friday to give Brown credit for saying no to the rifle ban.

Thome pointed out that much of Kern County and several other counties in California are already in a lead-free zone established to protect the endangered California condor, although there are exceptions in the earlier law for some game animals.

“I haven’t had any lead-free ammo in my store for two months,” Thome said.

There’s a severe shortage of lead-free ammo, he said, that could take years to resolve itself.

Fortunately, the ban on lead ammo doesn’t go into effect until July 2019, which may offer manufacturers and distributors a chance to catch up to the demand.

Still, as far as Thome is concerned, the argument that lead ammo is dangerous for people and the environment is based on bad science. It’s just another way to place more limitations on hunters.

“I don’t see anything good about it,” he said of the ban.

But why not give Brown credit for his veto of the rifle legislation?

“Because he’s a freakin’ phony,” Thome said.

“All of these laws infringe on our rights,” he added. “He should veto every one of them. I’m not giving him any credit at all.”

Proponents of the bill said the ban will protect condors and other wildlife that feed on gut piles left behind by hunters.

"I am concerned, however, the impression left from this bill is that hunters and sportsmen and women in California are not conservationists," Brown wrote. "I know that is not the case. Hunters and anglers are the original conservationists."

He said the bill protects hunters by allowing the ban to be lifted if the federal government decides to prohibit hunters from using non-lead ammo.

Brown’s action Friday came as he announced signing and vetoing other measures on ammunition and gun ownership, including rejecting a bill that would have banned the sale of most semi-automatic rifles that accept detachable magazines.

Opponents of AB711 argued that non-lead ammunition is more expensive and faces federal restrictions because it is technically considered to be armor-piercing. The California Fish and Game Wardens’ Association last week urged Brown to veto the bill, saying there is insufficient data to justify a statewide ban.

A statement issued Friday by the National Shooting Sports Foundation said the bill  will amount to a virtual ban on hunting in California, saying the supply of non-lead ammunition is limited because manufacturers must receive a federal waiver to sell those bullets.

Lead is the leading cause of death for the remaining wild California condors, which can be found in California, Baja California, Arizona and Utah. Supporters say the use of lead bullets not only endangers wildlife but also puts people who eat game killed with the ammunition at risk.

Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored the bill along with Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon California, said more than 30 states have limited when lead bullets can be used, such as by season or by geography.

"This common-sense law should serve as an example for the rest of the nation on the urgent need to stop releasing this dangerous toxin into the environment," Fearing said.

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, who carried AB711, said in a statement Friday that the ban makes sense because lead has already been prohibited in paint, gasoline and toys.

The ban will be phased in by July 2019. The new law requires the state Fish and Game Commission to enact regulations by July 2015, which will detail when the ban goes into effect for different types of hunting and areas of the state.

Brown said in his signing statement the time between adopting the regulations and requiring the ban to be in full effect will give hunters time to adjust to the new rules. He also said he will direct officials to consider incentives for hunters to make the transition.

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