A note on terminology

A note on terminology: In the previous post, you will see the term “traditional ammunition” used to describe lead ammo. And while the use of lead in ammo is certainly traditional, I don’t think that this is the best term to describe it. I base this on presentations that I had seen given by other pro-gun and pro-hunting groups here in the State of California when the Save-the-Condors lead ban (AB821) was being debated. Those groups went before various committees, pounded the podium, and cried that their traditions were being ignored. The pro-ban presenters claimed to be using science. Guess who got listened to. The NRA, rather than joining in with the other pro-gun groups and sounding like an off-Broadway production of Fiddler On The Roof, examined the “science” the ban supporters were using. That “science” has been found to be anything but scientific and the NRA has been able to beat back further attempts to expand the lead bullet ban in this State. You beat science with science; not tradition.

So what’s a better term?

The “non-traditional” ammo that has been proposed as a replacement for lead ammo contains alloys of steel, copper, or tungsten. The banners call these bullets “non-toxic”; however, science has since reared its ugly head. Copper has been found to be toxic to aquatic species. Tungsten is also toxic, causing nerve damage. An old favorite, steel, may cause damage in birds that swallow sharp fragments. “But isn’t lead toxic?” you ask. Lead compounds, such as lead oxide or lead acetate, are toxic. Metallic lead, on the other hand, is not. This has to do with a concept called “bioavailability”; a measure of how easily an element or compound is taken into the bloodstream. Metallic lead simply isn’t a bioavailable form of the metal. There are acids that can dissolve metallic lead so that there are lead ions available to be absorbed into the bloodstream; but, body-temperature hydrochloric acid is not one of those acids. Thus it passes through the digestive tract of an animal with very little lead being absorbed into the blood. And unlike hard steel, lead is soft and deformable. When it enters an animal’s digestive tract, it’s less likely to cut the animal and cause internal bleeding.

There’s also a legal hazard with the harder “non-toxic” bullet alloys. Done incorrectly, bullets made with these alloys could be classified as “armor piercing” or “cop-killer” bullets. Tungsten bullets get around this by using the metal in a powdered form. The powdered tungsten is then sintered together or held in a polymer matrix. It may also be held together within a swaged matrix of powdered copper. The rounds fragment on impact and thus can’t be called armor piercing. The problem here is that the powdered tungsten (and powdered copper if it’s present as well) has a tremendous surface area to mass ratio. In other words, for a given mass of the metal, there is a huge surface area available for contact with oxidizing agents. The powdered tungsten residue will quickly dissolve and contaminate ground water.

Thus we see that the non-traditional, “non-toxic” ammo is quite toxic. How about lead? It’s less toxic than the “non-toxic” alternatives. And there’s our better term: “Less toxic ammunition”.