NRA victory in fight over ammo ban

Gun Rights

A federal court on Friday rejected a long-fought effort by environmental groups to force a ban on lead ammo in a national park, providing a key win for hunters, the National Rifle Association, and the United States Forest Service.

In a 25-page decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a bid by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity to order the Forest Service to ban the use of lead ammo in the Kaibab National Forest, which adjoins the Grand Canyon and is a popular big game hunting destination.


In the courts for 11 years, the group was pushing to force a ban on lead bullets used by hunters and sometimes ingested by condors and other birds when feasting on guts left behind when game is field dressed.

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The case was also seen as a test of efforts by anti-hunting groups to regulate ammunition, an angle that drew in the NRA, which praised the unanimous decision in a statement provided to Secrets.

“This NRA victory is a significant setback for gun control and anti-hunting advocates who see ammo bans as a pivotal leap in their agenda,” said Michael Jean, the director of the Office of Litigation Counsel with the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s legal and lobbying arm.

The case was complicated, tying commercial waste rules to professional hunting guides. But the bottom line was that the Center was essentially pushing the federal government to ban the use of lead ammo in the park since the ammunition has been found to be a contributing factor to the deaths of condors and other scavenger birds.

The federal government, which owns a 1.6 million acre park, mostly defers to states on hunting rules, and Arizona recommends — but doesn’t ban — lead ammo by hunters. In fact, the state pushes for the use of alternative ammo and makes it available to hunters, who have largely shifted to it when hunting in Kaibab.

Studies show that lead bullets break apart after hitting game, and birds can ingest those fragments. Arizona recommends using copper bullets which don’t break up in the same way.

By not banning lead ammo, the Center argued that the federal government was contributing to the deaths, which the court rejected.


“A decision by an agency not to regulate — whether the lack of regulation represents a conscious decision or a lack of initiative — is passive conduct. In and of itself, nonregulation contributes nothing to the disposal of hazardous waste,” said the court.

The NRA’s Jean told us, “This case affirmed that the states have primary responsibility over wildlife management, including all aspects related to hunting. Courts will not entertain ‘failure-to-regulate’ lawsuits against the federal government for merely honoring state hunting laws. It’s also a rejection of an attempt to apply a federal law that was designed to regulate large-scale commercial-waste disposal to ordinary American hunters,” he added.

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