Now That Guns Aren’t A Health Risk, What About Lead?

For the last twenty years, if not longer, the gun industry has steadfastly refused to consider the possibility that guns represent a public health problem. The fact that intentional gun deaths and injuries amount to more than 100,000 per year is of no concern because as we all know, it’s not the gun which creates the injury, it’s how some people use guns.

leadYou could also say the same thing about tobacco. It’s not the cigarette which causes cancer, it’s the person who decides to smoke. In other words, anyone who takes the ‘it’s the gun, not the person’ nonsense seriously probably believes that what Trump said last night about Afghanistan makes any sense.

Now that the argument over guns as a health risk is at least temporarily settled in favor of the guns, our friends in Fairfax have raised a new public health concern, namely, the crazy idea that lead is a toxic substance and therefore should also be regulated the same way that those stupid physicians want to regulate guns. What they are saying is that a new plan to regulate workplace lead drafted by the State of Washington will “impose complicated and expensive burdens on shooting ranges and retailers, potentially making it difficult for many to continue operations.” And if the local shooting range shuts down, how will gun owners gain enough practice time to practice in order to maintain their “constitutionally protected Second Amendment right to self-defense?”

I have an even bigger concern. Now that their President wants to jack up troop levels in Afghanistan (recall he was the candidate who complained that we shouldn’t have committed any troops over there at all) maybe some of those militia-types who were goose-stepping around Charlottesville will volunteer to go overseas. In which case they’ll need plenty of range time before they pack up their gear and leave. But what if the range has to shut down because it can’t afford to clean up the lead? So now the medical community is not only wrong about guns, but those dumb docs are messing with national security as well!

Bringing us back to reality, lead has been recognized as a toxic substance since the 1970s when it was realized that lead ingestion could have serious health effects on both children and adults – much more the former, hence the elimination of lead from things around kids, in particular paint and toys. But the fact that lead was identified nearly 40 years ago as a toxin doesn’t mean that the rules can’t change. Medicine is always updating its understanding of disease and risks to health – better testing, better lab work, better epidemiological analysis – it all adds up to better health.

But the NRA, one of our foremost medical research organizations, has decided that there’s no reason to change the rules covering lead contamination because no matter what science shows, we can’t do anything which might threaten those beloved 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ And in case you didn’t know, one of the most important 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ is the ‘right’ to make a buck selling guns and ammunition to all those guys who may be getting shipped overseas as well as the defenders of American liberty who choose to remain at home.

I actually took the trouble to read the new lead regulations being proposed in Washington State, and they are based on OSHA contamination rules which have been in existence since 1978. What has changed is the requirement that an employer who has employees working in a retail store which sells guns and ammunition or in a public range allow the employees to be tested for lead levels, which is a simple blood test that costs a few bucks.

If the employee shows a blood level higher than the OSHA standards (which are much higher than what the CDC recommends for children, by the way), then obviously there has to be follow-up, but in most cases the lead level can be reduced if employees wash their hands.

Unfortunately, the Constitution doesn’t protect clean hands. But it does protect guns.



4 thoughts on “Now That Guns Aren’t A Health Risk, What About Lead?

  1. We’ve known since the times of the Greeks and Romans that lead, at least in high concentrations, is a neurotoxin as well as having other biological toxic effects. What’s changed is our ability to measure it at low levels and do good population studies. Clair Patterson (the geoscientist to first accurately dated the earth and solar system using Uranium-Lead) and his students at Caltech were aghast at the amount of industrial lead in water and air in S. California. Those studies expanded to elsewhere. Somewhere before I recycled all my academic reprints, I had a Patterson et al paper showing the lead concentrations in prehistoric humans, modern humans, and heavily contaminated humans. Thanks to the Internet, it is here: Natural skeletal levels of lead in Homo sapiens sapiens uncontaminated by technological lead. Clair Patterson et al, The Science of the Total Environment, 107 (1991) 205-236

    During the past 40 years a lot of work has looked at populations of people and measured blood lead vs. intelligence measurements with lead levels as low as 5-10 ug/dl (micrograms per deciliter). There are some compelling arguments that even lead at levels much higher than 5-10 ug/dl can be linked to impaired long term brain function and perhaps, linked to inner city crime, especially during the periods when lead was ubiquitious in paint and gasoline (the latter leading to very high lead aerosol levels in inner cities).

    We have a robust air filtration and exhaust system at our indoor range in Los Alamos but to my knowledge, no one routinely does blood testing for lead. I usually shoot outside. Lead in primers is especially a problem at ranges as the lead is aerosolized in the combustion products of the primer compound and powder charge. Esp. with the ever more popular pocket cannons where the end of the barrel is close to the shooter. Other articles on lead fragmentation in game meat.
    Here is an article.

    That all said, it wouldn’t surprise me if some nefarious anti-gunners tried to use this information to make shooting sports impossible. Perhaps what we need are those warnings like we see on cigarette packages:

    Warning! Lead, even at low levels, will cause brain dysfunction and lead people to vote for Donald Trump. If you are shooting at an indoor range, ensure you take precautions (wash hands after shooting, don’t eat at range, etc) and that the range has an air filtration system.

    Ok, back to work.

  2. “It’s not the cigarette which causes cancer, it’s the person who decides to smoke”.
    But wait…what about the studies that show secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year.
    Does this mean that many of those close to a “gun” will die?

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