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Lead: unavoidable train crash or a battle for our destiny?

At SACS, we recognise that the traditional world of shooting with lead ammunition is changing. Consumer led, environmental and political challenges in Europe and the UK will likely result in the statutory replacement of some types of lead ammunition, such as lead shot, to non-toxic alternatives in the relatively short years to come. If you use lead ammunition in any form, then please read on because this affects you.

Lead: unavoidable train crash or a battle for our destiny?

Significant and successful work has been ongoing from the collective shooting organisations engaged in the lead issue, to both manage the challenges of a likely transition and inform the legislatures in the UK and Europe of those challenges. One thing that can confidently be predicted, is there will be a substantive move away from lead to non-toxic alternatives. We all need to be aware of this as the challenge cannot be avoided by denial, internet posturing or wishing it to be the next generation’s problem in “it’ll happen, but I just want to see out my shooting”.

As a community, we cannot intelligently entrust the future of our varied shooting and firearms interests to providence; no rage or hot air will blow this lead issue away. So, there are essentially two options: 1) we can look at the lead issue purely as a threat and essentially do nothing until the train that left over 20 years ago is upon us and it’s too late to do anything, or 2) we can avoid a total and uncontrolled train crash by facing the lead issue as an opportunity to fight for the future of all shooting interests, which includes dynamically protecting those shooting interests where there are no viable non-lead options.

For once in shooting advocacy, we need to get a grip of our destiny before others less inclined to our way of life do it for us. By working together and by seizing and maintaining control of the agenda, shooting can continue and prosper.

A year on

It has been a year since the shooting organisations announced a five-year view on replacing lead shot for quarry shooting with shotguns. This generated a significant amount of comment from the shooting community, both for and against. Our view was clear that the statement was well-intentioned and the lead issue needed to be urgently addressed, but it could have been communicated better.

SACS stood up and took its share of the blame for its part. We cannot assume a position as leaders and representatives if we cannot fairly take a knuckle rap when it is due. As a collective, we can and will do better and, frankly, we already are - much progress in effective joint working has been made and more will follow. That said, the vast majority of people we spoke with understood the lead challenge, even if they considered the joint statement to be a mess.

However, there was a positive: last year the Environment Bill at Westminster had an amendment for lead ammunition to be gone within just two years, but that amendment failed because the Government had already supported the joint lead statement from earlier in the year, which called for a more sensibly paced and organised transition. Clearly, if we do not face this now there’s no stopping a lead ammunition train crash for our community.

Representation for all

As much as a transition from lead shot for quarry shooting with shotguns has its own specific challenges, which we fully recognise, a wider move from other lead ammunition types will affect more people and shooting activities. This is why robustly controlling the agenda is so important and, for those ammunition natures that do not have viable alternatives to lead, we can proactively work to protect them in a way that no Government or anti-shooting initiative would.

SACS works to support all shooting interests from airguns to shotguns to pistols, rifles and vintage arms and at all levels. The interests of all shooters should be fully and ably represented on the lead issue and, to that end, we are working closely with our partner organisations to ensure effective representation across all shooting interests.

We believe that a cross-sector ammunition technical group should be established, where those with genuine firearms and ammunition technical experience can meet to reach out to and then ably represent all shooting interests. With such expertise and community engagement we can collectively work toward solutions, thereby enabling us to control our destiny. Such a joint group would allow us to fight intelligently and also remain on the front foot in the fight. To be clear, as we have long said, where no viable alternatives to lead exist then those shooting interests must be supported via conditional derogations or fundamental exemptions from any relevant future legislation.

Joint comms and cartridge manufacturers

We are aware of the lead ammunition update being issued today by our colleagues in other principal shooting representative bodies and we support the positive news it brings, especially from the cartridge manufacturers whose engagement is warmly welcomed and absolutely vital. That said, we wanted to say more to our members. There is still some way to go on this journey and a need for greater clarity, purpose and defined joint endeavour. Our members have requested fuller information on all shooting interests affected by the lead issue, not just game shooting and we will fulfil that instruction.

As matters progress, we will ensure that you are fully informed and engaged with, which will likely include consultation on technical matters and specific shooting interests. The intention is that every corner and interest group within our community should feel effectively represented, with their views heard and transmitted. No-one will be left behind.

European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and REACH update

As this is a common question from members, we are including here a brief update on the European Chemicals Agency and how, even post Brexit, this will continue to be relevant to the UK and ultimately lead ammunition. Please remember that this is not the only challenge to lead ammunition – it may be that consumer demands for lead-free meat set the pace quicker than chemicals legislation.

Current European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) position on lead ammunition:

The UK has of course left the EU, but as we have previously emphasised, there will be alignment with EU chemical-related laws. UK Government proposes that this is done via a UK version of REACH and the link below is useful background reading relevant to explain how this may happen and relevant to the lead issue:

Although the UK would not be obliged to follow EU decisions on chemical authorisations or restrictions, to avoid trade and border disputes there would clearly be full or near-full alignment. In these higher-level trade negotiations, lead ammunition becomes a minority interest subject to, and at the mercy of, wider international trade matters.

So, although the UK having its own version of REACH may sound good in the context of better-protecting lead ammunition, the reality is very different and the challenge becomes more urgent. Not only would there be alignment with the ECHA, but a UK REACH system would be far less ponderous and inefficient than the sloth-like EU version and policy decisions could likely be taken quicker. As well as effective political level shooting advoacy, it is because of the ECHA’s slow pace that we are still using lead ammunition in the way we currently are.

We stand as one

The lead issue is urgent, unavoidable and affects all of us; we all need to work together. As a SACS member we will keep you informed and engaged and when matters arise that you need to be consulted on – you will be. That is a promise.

26 February 2021