Unsafe lead levels at gun ranges could be eliminated in one fell swoop by banning lead in ammunition.
LAW-enforcement officers face plenty of risks on the job. Lead poisoning shouldn’t be one of them.
In the latest installments of The Times’ groundbreaking investigative series “Loaded with Lead,” reporter Christine Willmsen reported how police officers, corrections officers, air marshals and other law-enforcement personnel have been repeatedly exposed to unsafe levels of lead at the gun ranges they must patronize to maintain their shooting skills.
Some have gotten sick. At least one has died. Law-enforcement agencies have failed to educate employees about lead risks, failed to clean and maintain their own indoor ranges, and failed to ensure that the privately owned ranges with which they contract comply with safety standards.
Enforcement of those standards by state and federal regulators has been spotty at best.
This is a long-running, national problem. Willmsen uncovered horror stories from Washington, Maryland, Florida, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio and Kansas, some dating back more than 40 years.
Unsafe lead levels at gun ranges — which endanger workers, civilian shooting enthusiasts and their families, as well as law-enforcement officers — could be eliminated in one fell swoop by banning lead in ammunition, just as it’s already been removed by law from gasoline, paint and toys. Lead is nasty stuff and there are alternatives.
Unfortunately, legislative efforts to ban lead bullets have encountered misguided opposition from some gun enthusiasts. So, until the political dynamics change, gun-range operators should follow the example of the Kirkland Police Department and act on their own.
That department this month opened what might be the first lead-free indoor shooting range in the state. Lead-free ammunition is more expensive, the department’s senior firearms instructor acknowledges. “But in the long run it ends up paying for itself.”
There’s more that can and should be done. Workplace-safety officials should inspect shooting ranges more frequently. Law-enforcement agencies should step up programs to educate officers about lead’s dangers and how to minimize exposure. Unions that represent law-enforcement personnel might consider making lead at gun ranges a topic for collective bargaining.
Most on-the-job risks that officers face can’t be eliminated. This one can, and should be as soon as possible.