Lead Ammunition Banned in California

Overview:  This weeks Law Review discusses California’s new law and implementing regulations outlawing lead ammunition in the Golden State, phased over four years with an absolute ban against lead ammunition for hunting taking effect on July 1, 2019, making California the first state in the nation to ban such ammunition.

The California Legislature passed a phased lead ammunition ban, signed into law by Governor Jerry in 2013.

Other states have dabbled in the area of the lead ammunition issue but California is the first and only state to ban it altogether. Arizona and Utah have successful voluntary programs in which hunters in Condor territory are provided free non-lead ammunition.

The California Condor’s numbers dipped as low as 22 in 1987 but have since bounced back to 430, most not truly living in the wild, which is disconcerting.

The law reads: “Non-lead ammunition . . . shall be required when taking all wildlife, including game mammals, game birds, nongame birds and nongame mammals, with any firearm.” It covers essentially all ammunition for shotguns, pistols and rifles.

Violation is an infraction punishable by a fine of $500, $1,000 to $5,000 for a subsequent offense.

New Regulations/Phases

The 2013 law requires that all lead ammunition be banned by July 1, 2019.

The California Fish and Game Commission just issued its implementing regulations which will reduce lead ammunition use in three phases.

As of July 1, 2015, non-lead ammunition must be used when taking all wildlife on California’s state-run Wildlife Areas and Ecological Reserves. Lead ammunition for duck and goose hunting has been banned for years.

Phase 2 takes effect July 1, 2016. Non-lead ammunition will be mandated when taking upland game birds with a shotgun. Hunting with traditional lead ammunition will remain legal at licensed game bird clubs. Non-lead ammunition will be required statewide for shotgun hunting of small game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds, and any wildlife for depredation purposes. Hunting with traditional lead centerfire and rimfire (e.g. .22’s) ammunition will be legal under Phase 2 for small game, furbearing, and nongame mammals, as well as nongame birds and wildlife for depredation purposes.

A total ban of all hunting with lead ammunition begins statewide in California on July 1, 2019. That does not include target shooting.


As you can imagine, the NRA and several sportsman’s groups have opposed the ban claiming it is based on “junk science.” Proponents of the ban herald studies showing the adverse effect of lead ammunition on the endangered California Condor which sometimes feed on the guts of animals shot by hunters.

Federal v. California

One of the unintended consequences of California’s ban is the difficulty of obtaining non-lead ammunition which I know from personal experience is at least three or four times more expensive than lead ammunition.

Apparently the feds are holding up applications by bullet manufacturers seeking approval to develop non-lead ammunition because most non-lead rifle ammo is brass or copper which is a more dense material than lead — which makes it armor-piercing — a concern to law enforcement agencies. So while California bans lead, the feds are dragging their feet approving alternative ammunition. Government at its best.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.

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The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters.