In a move to protect wildlife and the environment, California on Friday became the first state to ban lead in hunting ammunition.
The measure, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, phases out lead bullets and shot by July 2019, with regulations due by July 2015.
"Lead poses a danger to wildlife. This danger has been known for a long time," Brown wrote in a signing message, noting that a leading conservation wrote about lead poisoning in 1984. The federal government banned lead ammunition from waterfowl hunting in 1991.
The measure expands an earlier ban on lead hunting ammunition in California condor habitat. The new law covers all wildlife, including "game mammals, game birds, nongame birds and nongame mammals" such as coyotes.
"The risks to California's incredibly diverse wildlife are many," Brown wrote. "We must manage our state's wildlife for the use and enjoyment of all Californians. It is time to begin this transition and provide hunters with ammunition that will allow them to continue the conservation heritage of California."
Brown noted changes to the legislation that "better protect the hunting community," including authorizing the state's Fish & Wildlife director to suspend the ban if the federal government outlaws nonlead ammunition because it can pierce armor.
Supporters also said the ban would protect the health of hunters and their families.
"Switching to nontoxic lead ammunition will save the lives of eagles, condors and thousands of other birds every year – and, importantly, will keep hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead," the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.
But the organization representing state game wardens had urged Brown to veto the lead ban.
"California Game Wardens are on the front line enforcing the ban on lead ammunition for most hunting in condor range. But there is insufficient data to justify such a drastic action across the entire state," the association's leadership wrote in a letter to the governor.
The bill was one of 11 gun-regulation measures the Democratic governor signed.
But Brown vetoed seven other firearms bills introduced in response to the Connecticut school massacre last December. The most controversial sought to ban the manufacture, sale and importation of semiautomatic combat-style rifles with detachable magazines.
"I don't believe that this bill's blanket ban on semiautomatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners' rights," Brown wrote in veto message. He said the bill applied to "low-capacity rifles that are commonly used for hunting, firearms training and marksmanship practice, as well as some historical and collectible firearms."
The measure would have also required current owners to register their weapons and would have prohibited them from selling or transferring them.
Noting that gun violence had killed more than 1,100 Californians since the the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat representing Sacramento, said he sponsored "because I believe aggressive action is precisely what's needed to reduce the carnage in our communities, and to counter the equally aggressive action by the gun industry which is intent on exploiting loopholes in our existing ban on assault weapons."
Brown also rejected legislation to allow Oakland to draft stricter gun regulations and to let San Francisco and San Mateo County supervisors ban gun shows.