The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's trade group, is pushing back on a conspiracy theory promoted by right-wing media that the Obama administration is using the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate the domestic ammunition supply.
In November, The Doe Run Company announced that they will shutter their primary lead smelter at the end of the year -- the last such facility in the country -- as part of a settlement the company reached with the EPA in 2010. The settlement also involves the payment of $7 million in civil fines for violations of environmental law and an agreement to spend $65 million to correct past violations. A Doe Run senior communications liaison explained to The Salem News Online that, "The closure was really a result of increasing standards and an aging facility" and noted that it would be too expensive for the company to comply with clean air regulations.
Conservative media have claimed the EPA move was a backdoor attempt to limit the supply of lead ammunition. But responding to those conspiracies, NSSF senior vice president Lawrence Keane told The Washington Times that, "Manufacturers use recycled lead to make ammunition. They don't buy from smelters. The EPA closing, which has been in the works for a while, will have no impact on production, supply or cost to the consumers."
As Keane suggested, the root of the ring-wing media's conspiracy theory is the mistaken belief that ammunition must be made from lead obtained from the earth as opposed to recycled lead. Even Doe Run, which also operates a secondary lead smelting operation, noted in a November 7 press release that the closure will only affect products that require primary lead.
But right-wing media promoted evidence-free claims that the closure demonstrated a sinister Obama administration plot to eliminate the domestic ammunition supply. Most notably former Republican Rep. Allen West, who is now a conservative columnist and Fox News contributor, claimed in a column excerpted by Breitbart.com that "after December 2013, any ammunition that will be available to US citizens will have to be imported, which will surely increase the price and possibly come under government control." According to West, "backdoor gun control is in full effect in the United States." As noted by liberal blogger Joseph West, large sections of West's column were plagiarized from another right-wing author.
Breitbart.com's AWR Hawkins -- a serial misinformer on gun policy -- published a December 1 column claiming that the closure meant "the lead for traditional ammunition will have to be imported, thus driving up the price for bullets, shotgun shells, etc." Hawkins article was promoted by Infowars.com, a conspiracy website largely responsible for the conspiracy theory that routine Department of Homeland Security ammunition purchases were an attempt to dry up the civilian ammo supply.
The New American, a publication of the far-right John Birch Society, claimed "that in shuttering this plant, the Obama administration has taken yet another unconstitutional step, one that will severely impinge on the nation's ammunition manufacturing capability" and that the shuttering was part of a "civilian disarmament" plot. Alan P. Halbert wrote at the American Thinker, "We have reached the tipping point in the march against our rights and people by this rouge [sic] and out of control government; lead is a strategic material."
The National Rifle Association's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, also misleadingly suggested in an October 25 press release that the closure would make the "entirely domestic manufacture" of ammunition "impossible":
At this time, it's unclear if Doe Run or another company will open a new lead smelter in the United States that can meet the more stringent lead air quality standards by using more modern smelting methods. What is clear is that after the Herculaneum smelter closes its doors in December, entirely domestic manufacture of conventional ammunition, from raw ore to finished cartridge, will be impossible.
The misplaced hysteria over the Doe Run closure recalls an episode in early 2013 when claims that the Department of Homeland Security was purchasing unusual amounts of ammunition for a sinister purpose first circulated in fringe media before making the jump to Fox News. Even though the amount of ammunition purchased by DHS actually fell within historical norms and was not responsible for civilian market ammo shortages, Republicans in Congress introduced legislation and conducted oversight hearings on the basis of the right-wing media conspiracy theory.