Leaden Assumptions

“If you cannot ban guns, then make shooting very expensive.”

That is not an exact quote from any of the gun control industry organizations, but a sentiment stated by many therein and a few people who should know better.

In an ongoing attempt to find ways of making owning arms unaffordable, parts of the gun control industry have targeted shooting itself. Since nearly all common bullets are made of lead, and since lead in sufficient quantities can be dangerous to the health of people, there has been a concerted effort to ban lead bullets.

But, since bullets are “arms” and cannot be banned, and since there is little evidence that casual shooting causes people’s exposure to lead to be dangerous (aside from being shot), a move is afoot to do the next best thing, make recreational shooting illegal or expensive.

Home on the range

Number of Studies BLL


> 10 μg/dL


> 20 μg/dL


> 30 μg/dL


> 40 μg/dL

The latest assault comes from a study published in Environmental Health. In this report, the authors aggregated studies of employees at firing ranges and their blood lead levels (BLL). BLL is measured in micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL). This review of literature delivers the number of studies which the reported BLL levels as shown in the table on the right.

In the summary of this report, the authors state “Nearly all BLL measurements compiled in the reviewed studies exceed the current reference level of 5 μg/dL recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health … Thus, firing ranges, regardless of type and user classification, currently constitute a significant and unmanaged public health problem.”

Now, let’s examine the con.

How much lead is bad?

Querying Google for “blood lead levels toxic” reveals a table from the CDC, the same source as cited in the study.

It is of interest that the CDC baseline was originally 10 μg/dL (more on this later), but that they lowered the bar after 2012. We know the previous administration was ardently environmental, to the point of absurdity. Hence, the actual negative effects of a 10 μg/dL BLL was likely a side effect of a rabid regulatory bias and not any material need.

Going back to the table above, we see the upper bounds of measurement to be 40 μg/dL. This is important because, according to the CDC web site, the “prevailing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lead standards allow workers removed from lead exposure to return to lead work when their BLL falls below 40 µg/dL.”

Ponder that statement. If your blood lead level was so high that medical science felt it was wise to remove you from the work place, you are good to return once your BLL slides below 40 μg/dL.

Here is where it gets even more interesting. Until 2012, the CDC felt that a BLL of 10 µg/dL was OK for children. So, the bar for kids was 10, and the limit for adults was 40.

Yet in the Environmental Health published study, this range was considered so dangerous that proposals for new regulations of shooting ranges were prescribed.

Curiouser still

The sources of the data in this study are of concern. The data was global, and in non-US countries, some BLL levels were significantly higher than average. For example, a study of shooting ranges in Taiwan showed BLLs between 22 and 60 µg/dL. Of U.S. ranges, high BLL numbers appeared in very few studies, and at first glance they seem to be measured in shooting instructors, people who spend all day around possible lead exposure. But even these people commonly had BLLs below 40 µg/dL (a handful of cases were above, and some of those appear to be not the mean BLL, but measurements taken immediately after a training session).

Oddly, “Police Small Arms Instructors” in England had high BLLs scores – 33 to 50 µg/dL. California “Firing Range and Gun Store Employees” in one study ranged between 20 and 41 µg/dL.

The political angle

Anti-gun politicians may carry this torch with the intent of making the operation of firing ranges unprofitable or recreational shooting expensive. The report, without impact analysis, suggests “improved ventilation systems and oversight of indoor ranges, and development of airflow systems at outdoor ranges. Eliminating lead dust risk at firing ranges requires primary prevention and using lead-free primers and lead-free bullets.”

The bottom line remains. The aggregate of the domestic ranges shows BLL ranges between 16.7 and 30.3 … more than we might like but well within the range medical science has declared as safe for adults.

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