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It's getting to the point where the National Rifle Association could propose a Bring Your Gun to School Day and Montana's congressional delegation would promptly send out press releases about how the measure defends the state's outdoor heritage.

So it was no surprise when Sen. Jon Tester recently introduced a bill to permanently exempt lead bullets, shot, and fishing tackle from Environmental Protection Agency regulation.

"Hunting, shooting, and fishing are more than just pastimes in Montana—they're part of our outdoor heritage," Tester said. "They're Montana values that we pass on to our kids and grandkids. And I'll fight for those values whenever Washington D.C.'s rules get in the way of common sense."

Excuse us: common sense?

As the Indy reported in January, a 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 738 North Dakotans found that those who ate a lot of wild game had higher lead levels in their blood than those who ate little or none. The more recent the consumption of wild game harvested with lead bullets, the higher the level of lead. That's why the federal government now warns that pregnant women and young children shouldn't eat wild game killed with lead bullets.

As for the lead-tainted gut piles left behind, a study conducted in the Yellowstone area by the Wyoming-based institute Craighead Beringia South found that lead levels in bald and golden eagles nearly double during hunting season.

Evidently Tester, who faces a challenge from Rep. Denny Rehberg, will do anything to maintain his perfect rating with the NRA, which is always a factor in the political calculus of Montana. The group argues that attempts to regulate lead bullets are intended to "drive away hunters by mandating the use of costly ammunition they cannot afford." Copper bullets and other alternatives to lead may cost more, but do Tester and the NRA find no value in hunters bringing home uncontaminated meat?

It should be noted that Tester's proposal follows an effort by the Center for Biological Diversity to ban all lead ammunition. That's going too far—and so is permanently exempting lead from regulation. There's middle ground. Tester has commendably sought it on a host of other issues. He ought to keep looking for it now, before his race against Rehberg further devolves into a duel over who loves guns more, hates wolves more, and wants to cut the most trees.

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