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[Flickr user Jamal Fanaian]

Gun Policy

The NRA Wants to Squash Washington State’s Push to Reduce Gun-Range Lead Exposure

The heavy metal is known to cause a host of health problems, including organ failure.

The National Rifle Association is protesting plans by officials in Washington State to crack down on lead exposure at shooting ranges.

In a recent post on its website, the gun rights group declared that draft regulations released earlier this summer by the state’s Department of Labor, meant to keep ranges from poisoning customers, employees, and the environment, “will impose complicated and expensive burdens on shooting ranges and retailers, potentially making it difficult for many to continue operations.”

Lead exposure presents a dire health risk. The heavy metal can impair cognitive function and cause organ failure, among other ailments. Shooting can expose people to lead in a few ways: when the propellant explodes, it burns chemical compounds that contain lead, sending particles into the air. Small bits of the lead bullet disintegrate as it leaves the gun’s barrel and collides with the range’s wall, which can then be carried in the air like an aerosol.

Studies show that even just a single day of shooting can leave someone with elevated blood lead levels. Range workers are at particularly acute risk: one study found employees had blood lead levels four to eight times higher than what the CDC considers elevated.

Under the proposed new measures, Washington ranges would be required to monitor ventilation systems and check lead levels in employees’ blood.

The NRA contends that the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration already regulates lead in the workplace, as does Washington State under separate regulations.

However, a Seattle Times investigation showed just how poor a job existing federal and state regulations have done when it comes to containing the health risk presented by ranges. The investigation found that, in 2014, OSHA inspected only 201 of more than 16,000 ranges, and that ranges continue to operate with impunity even after it’s been documented they break existing safety rules.

As The Trace documented last year, shooting ranges also present a serious risk to the environment, and clean-up can be costly. In the spring of 2016, the East Bay Regional Parks District in California shut down an outdoor range because it was within the watershed of a reservoir, and leftover bullets could let lead seep into drinking water. The clean-up bill ballooned to $22 million.

The NRA has fought against efforts to reduce the health and pollution risk posed by lead at ranges, even though those dangers have little to do with the Second Amendment. Marion Hammer, a well-known NRA power broker and the group’s top lobbyist in Florida, encouraged a state legislator to threaten a local water authority’s funding after it tried to enforce a cleanup settlement with a trap-shooting range that had deposited a million pounds of lead in a fragile marine estuary.