Legal Challenges to Nontoxic (Steel) Shot Regulations

State and federal nontoxic (steel) shot regulations have been challenged unsuccessfully in court on 8 separate occasions. Several characteristics are common to many of the cases. First, sportsmen have filed every lawsuit; “anti-hunters” or “protectionists” have not litigated the nontoxic shot-lead poisoning issue. Second, plaintiffs have argued unsuccessfully that the regulations were “arbitrary and capricious.” Third, the courts have unilaterally rejected allegations that nontoxic shot is ballistically inferior to lead shot, that it causes firearms damage, and that lead poisoning losses are insufficient to warrant nontoxic shot regulations. Opponents' failure to secure favorable court decisions may cause them to increasingly seek legislative rather than adjudicatory relief. Short-term “gains” achieved through this process will be offset entirely if the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service exercises closure authority under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Moreover, legislation disrupting state nontoxic shot programs compromises authority of administrators to manage wildlife by employing political consensus rather than sound biological reasoning.

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