Gun Digest

Lead-Free Bullets: A Problem for Criminal Investigations?


With more and more ammunition makers are going to lead-free bullets, one crime scene investigator is worried that the lack of lead may compromise criminal investigations.

“This [move toward lead-free bullets] is a potential game changer,” Michael Knox, a seasoned crime scene investigator based in Jacksonville, Florida, told WKMG TV Orlando.

Because there isn't a universal formula manufacturers use to make lead-free bullets, criminal investigations are having a difficult time interpreting crime scenes where non-lead ammunition is used.

“Right now, investigators can reconstruct most gun crime scenes because they know how lead bullets perform in every conceivable situation,” WKMG reported. “The science is foolproof and accepted in every court. Knox said investigators have no idea how lead-free bullets will react when fired. There is little acceptable science because lead-free bullets are so new; certainly nothing any court would rule admissible-yet.”

“We have to have some idea of what we're looking for [during a criminal investigation],” said Knox. “Or we could miss [evidence that would point to a shooter] all together.”

It gets worse. Another researcher, Dr. Michael Sigman, of the National Center for Forensic Science, “and his team are analyzing the already known lead-free bullets available to determine what they're made of. They have already made one vital discovery. Ammunition makers are not replacing lead with another universal material.”

“Each manufacturer is using their own combination of metals or materials or alloys for that particular bullet,” said Knox. “And they're not sharing that information. It's proprietary information, like how Coca-Cola doesn't share its recipe for its beverages.”

This isn't the first time lead-free ammunition has been called into question by authorities. Research in 2011 on tungsten bullets concluded that the lead-free bullets may harm mammal immune systems. Per the report:

Laboratory mice given drinking water containing small amounts of a tungsten compound were examined to see where in their bodies the tungsten ended up.  Researchers found the highest concentrations of tungsten were found in the spleen, one of the main components of the immune system, and in bone marrow, the initial source of all the cells of the immune system.

As such, the jury is still out on a universal replacement for lead-free bullets.

Learn More About Using Lead-Free Bullets

The Gun Digest Book of Green Shooting is a go-to source of information on lead-free bullets. Author Rick Sapp reviews the latest lead-free bullets and explains their benefits to the shooter and reloader. Sapp also covers a range of modifications needed to take full advantage of lead-free bullets' performance.

Click here to order the Gun Digest Book of Green Shooting from and save 35% off retail.

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