By Cheryl K. Chumley
WASHINGTON D.C. – The closure of the last lead smelter plant in America due to tightened Environmental Protection Agency rules will have an impact on ammunition supplies and costs, according to Gun Owners of America.
And it will leave nearly 220 people who worked directly or indirectly for the plant seeking new jobs.
In an interview with Newsmax, GOA legislative counsel Mike Hammond said the shuttering of Doe Run Company’s Herculaneum lead smelter plant “won’t shut off the production of bullets in America because [manufacturers] can get recycled lead from a lot of other plants.
“But combined with the government’s large purchases of ammunition, it will make it harder and more expensive to purchase ammunition,” Hammond said.
Some Second Amendment supporters see sinister motives on the part of the federal government in tightening the smelting regulations.
Former Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, put a statement on his website about the Doe Run plant closure, calling it a “back-door gun control” move on the part of the Obama administration and the EPA to tighten ammunition supplies.
However, others in the gun-rights crowd downplay the effects of the closing.
Emily Miller, an award-winning writer recognized for her investigative work on Second Amendment issues and the author of “Emily Gets Her Gun … But Obama Wants to Take Yours,” told Newsmax that the smelter plant closure “will not have any effect on the supply or price of ammunition” and that bullets in America “are made with recycled lead, which is plentiful and at no risk of running low.”
“Conspiracy theories about the cost of lead increasing are not based on facts, and the ammunition manufacturers dispute these stories,” Miller said.
Mike Bazinet, director of public affairs with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, agreed, telling Newsmax: “The closing of the smelter will have no effect on the supply or cost of ammunition in the United States for the simple reason that ammunition makers use recycled lead — not the primary lead that comes from that smelter.”
So who’s right?
Doe Run Company, which has been in operation since 1892, first announced in 2010 that its smelter plant would close, due to its inability “to meet the increasingly stringent environmental regulations imposed on primary lead smelters.”
The company agreed to shutter its Herculaneum plant by Dec. 31, 2013, leaving 145 workers and 73 contractors jobless.
In a Nov. 7 statement on its website, the company addressed the impact of the closure on lead products by saying the metal has a multitude of uses, “including ammunition and construction metals.”
The company said demand for lead could send manufacturers searching overseas for the product.
“Those applications that require primary lead will need to import the lead metal in the future. Any additional demand for lead (above that which can be met through recycling at secondary smelters) will also have to be met through imports,” the company said, sending the message that demand could one day exceed supply at the recycling plants.
The NRA-ILA, the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association, issued a statement on Dec. 5 citing information it received from manufacturers and drawing the conclusion that “while many factors can affect the market for ammunition, this particular facility’s closure should not have the dramatic impact that some have predicted.”
Sierra Bullets, a manufacturer in Sedalia, Mo., in business since 1947, said in a Nov. 1 statement that the smelter plant closure was not likely to have a negative impact on operations in the near term, but it very well could in the future.
Sierra plant engineer Darren Leskiw said: “Our supply should not be in jeopardy and we do not anticipate any changes in our supply chain at this time. Could the lack of primary lead create a little more demand for recycled lead? Sure, but how much is unknown. Could this increase in demand also create an increase in price? Sure, but again, by how much is unknown at this time. In short, we do not see any reason for alarm.”
But to Hammond of the Gun Owners of America, those remarks aren’t reassuring.
The statements only drive home his point, he said, that the smelter plant closure is in fact going to impact ammunition supplies and costs. Hammond suggested industry insiders were trying to play down that scenario due to business concerns.
“You don’t want people questioning if your company is going to shut down,” he said.
Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Week for the Second Amendment Foundation and a co-author of “Assault on Weapons: The Campaign to Eliminate Your Guns,” said in a telephone interview that some manufacturers were moving more toward the production of nonlead or copper-based bullets.
“The people I have spoken with — they make bolts — don’t seem to be that worried,” Workman said of the Doe Run closure. “But bullet-makers in the United States are starting to produce projectiles that do not contain any lead. And probably, as time goes on, you’ll see a gradual acceptance of this.”
California, for example, has banned lead bullets for hunters, a response to animal-rights groups who claimed the lead was killing condors, and to environmental lobbyists who said the metal was seeping into the water supply. The ban ignited a firestorm, in part because lead-free bullets, like those made of copper, have been criticized for their inaccuracy.
“Lead has a characteristic that tends not to explode when it hits a target. It doesn’t break into 10,000 pieces as much as other metals do when [they] hit,” Hammond said.
According to The Firearm Blog, the leading source of primary lead in the world will be China, followed by Australia and Peru.