Poisonous Pastime – Section Four: Recommendations

The vast majority of Americans who do not own guns and have no interest in subsidizing the gun industry can do a number of things about the shooting-range industry and its depredations. 

Local Activism

There are several actions Americans can undertake at the local level to combat the serious hazards, especially to children, that shooting ranges and ammunition reloading pose. These include: 

  • All children who have any direct or indirect exposure to a shooting range or to reloading should immediately have their blood lead levels tested. There is no truly “safe” level of exposure to lead. Any child who has recently shot at a range, or otherwise been present at a shooting range, needs to be tested. Likewise, any child who has participated in, or had any exposure to, ammunition reloading should be tested. Furthermore, any child with indirect exposure through a parent, sibling, etc. who frequents shooting ranges or engages in reloading should be tested.

  • No children should be allowed at shooting ranges, nor should they participate in or be exposed to ammunition reloading, since there is no “safe” level of lead exposure for children. Minimum age standards of 18 should be imposed at all shooting ranges and no parent should allow children access to ammunition reloading equipment.

  • Conduct local “audits” of shooting ranges to check lead levels at ranges and ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, including zoning, noise, environmental, as well as health and safety.One of the most effective things local activists can do is to form coalitions with health and environmental groups to challenge shooting-range compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and test ranges for lead. Applicable standards include not only zoning and noise ordinances, but state, local, and federal health and environmental-protection laws and regulations. (One of the best sources of information about this potential is material published by the NRA and the NSSF relating to shooting ranges.) In many cases, citizens will find that they can themselves bring lawsuits directly against shooting ranges that are arguably not in compliance with environmental laws. In others, they can urge government officials to take appropriate action. 

Federal Actions

Additional action can be taken at the federal level, primarily through legislation, but also through regulation. 

  • Give first priority for Pittman-Robertson funds to cleaning up and repairing lead damage to public lands�such as national parks�caused by “slob shooters” and others in the shooting sports. New federal legislation earmarks at least $7.5 million each fiscal year for hunter education and “the enhancement of construction or development of firearm shooting ranges…and the updating of safety features of firearm shooting ranges….” As this report documents, serious resources need to be devoted to cleaning up the lead pollution generated by shooting ranges. Pittman-Robertson funds should first be devoted to this task. Resources should also be dedicated to repairing the environmental damage inflicted by “slob shooters.”

  • Redirect a portion of Pittman-Robertson funds from the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition to paying the cost of handgun lethality and injury. Firearms cause tens of thousands of deaths and injuries every year, at a staggering cost to our public health system. In 1998 alone, 30,708 Americans died by gunfire. Since 1960, more than a million Americans have died in firearm suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings. Nearly three times that number are treated in emergency rooms each year for nonfatal injuries. Most of this carnage is caused by handguns. The nation’s health care system should have a superior claim on funds derived from the sale of handguns and ammunition. This money should be restricted to funding trauma centers, for example, rather than shooting ranges.

  • Forbid use of federal dollars for any range that permits use of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, or machine guns. The national policy against assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and machine guns is clear and already law. No shooting range subsidized under Pittman-Robertson should allow the use of such banned weapons. Any range that does should forfeit federal tax dollars.

  • Investigate the use of federal government assets (including military resources) to support the gun-industry range strategy. Congress and the General Accounting Office should investigate the extent to which federal agencies and military appendages are inappropriately expending taxpayer resources to support the gun industry’s range strategy.

  • Investigate the propriety and administration of Pittman-Robertson grants for the National Shooting Range Symposiums. This report raises serious questions, as detailed in Appendix A, about several aspects of the Pittman-Robertson grants for the National Shooting Range Symposiums. The General Accounting Office should be asked to investigate and report on these questions. 

Other Policy Ramifications

In addition to the environmental hazards and health problems associated with shooting ranges, other concerns regarding the utility of ranges should be addressed. For example: 

  • The serious lead hazard associated with shooting ranges calls into question the wisdom of encouraging or requiring firearm safety training as a mechanism to reduce firearm-related violence. Studies indicate that firearm safety training has little or no effect in making gun owners store their weapons in a safer manner. In fact, one of the leading studies indicates that safety training actually encourages gun owners to store their firearms unlocked and loaded for ready access. Taking into account the clear hazard posed to human health by exposure to lead at shooting ranges, any possible benefits of firearm safety training are outweighed by the risk of lead poisoning.

  • The significant health and environmental hazards associated with shooting ranges demonstrate the folly of supporting range development with public funds. States and localities should consider moratoriums on the construction of new ranges. 

r) All of the revenue generated by the excise taxes on pistols, revolvers, long guns (rifles and shotguns) and ammunition was deposited in the general treasury until 1937 when the Pittman-Robertson “Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act” (Pittman-Robertson or Wildlife Restoration Act) was passed. The stated purpose of the legislation was to rectify dwindling wildlife resources. The bill set aside funds generated by the excise tax on long guns and ammunition to be allocated to the states for use in wildlife conservation projects. The bill did not earmark the revenue collected on pistols and revolvers which continued to flow into the general treasury until the Act was revised in 1970. The legislation was amended so that the tax on pistols and revolvers was diverted from the general fund of the Treasury to the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Fund, with states having the option of using these funds for carrying out hunter safety programs or regular wildlife restoration programs. Organizations supporting the 1970 legislation included the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Rifle Association, and the National Sporting Goods Association. Despite protestations from the Interior and Treasury departments, the tax revenue from handguns was earmarked exclusively for hunter safety and wildlife conservation programs. This has remained the status quo for 30 years. 

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