On April 26, 2005, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Sen. Joe Dunn and Senate President pro tem Don Perata held a press conference announcing the introduction of SB 357, a bill to mandate that all handgun ammunition carry a unique serial number engraved on the casing of each cartridge and on the bottom of every bullet. During this conference, Lockyer made a number of claims in support of the bill that are not supported by the facts. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, Inc. responded to those claims, and provided important insight into the real impact of this ill-conceived legislation.
- Lockyer, Dunn and Perata claimed SB357 would cost manufacturers only one-half of a cent to laser engrave a serial number on the base of a bullet and side of a cartridge.
According to SAAMI, the actual cost to serialize ammunition--with a number engraved on the bottom of each bullet and on the side of each casing--would be staggering, requiring the creation of entirely new factories and purchase of new production equipment. This alone would cost tens of millions of dollars. Additionally, the time required to laser engrave each round, even if only a fraction of a second for each of the millions of rounds produced, would seriously slow down production. SAAMI estimates it would take three weeks to produce what is now completed in one DAY. This sort of slowdown would cripple the industry. It would also require that ammunition, which is now made in production lots of millions, be made in lots of 20, 50 or 100 rounds, eliminating the benefits of mass production that enable ammunition manufacturers to operate successfully.
SAAMI analysis projects that a round that now costs pennies would cost several dollars each! A far cry from the half-cent claim made by Lockyer and his allies.
- Lockyer, Dunn and Perata said that serializing each bullet is the same as printing lot numbers on the packaging of other products.
These two procedures are not comparable. Ammunition manufactures already place lot numbers on ammunition packaging, just as makers of other products do. They do not, however, place serial numbers on each item in the package. Imagine the cost to consumers if every aspirin, antacid or prescription drug capsule had to carry a serial number. The costs would make health care excessively expensive for even well off Americans.
- Lockyer, Dunn and Perata claimed the industry has test-fired serialized bullets to ensure the technology works.
No major firearms manufacturer, or SAAMI--the nation's leading authority, which sets standards followed by every ammunition maker--participated in any testing of serialized ammunition. SAAMI has serious questions regarding the practicality of reading the number from a laser engraving on a bullet after it has been subjected to the pressures and deformation involved in firing a handgun. In any case, General Lockyer was misleading in suggesting the industry has participated in testing this process.
- Lockyer, Dunn and Perata asserted that the bill would not impact rifle ammunition.
This claim shows the lack of general knowledge the proponents of this bill have about firearms. SB 357 specifies "handgun ammunition" without providing a definition, and that opens the ban up to any round that can be fired from a handgun. This would include all .22 caliber rimfire rounds, the most common target shooting round, and many traditional rifle rounds that can and are shot from handguns that are designed for hunting. Additionally, there are many rifles that are designed to use common "handgun" ammunition, including .38, 9mm, .44 and .45.
- Lockyer, Dunn and Perata said SB 357 would not adversely impact law enforcement.
Even with a law enforcement exemption, the cost of ammunition will increase dramatically. This will have an adverse impact on police department budgets and on the costs to all city and county bottom lines. Additionally, it is the civilian sales of ammunition that fund research and development of ammunition for law enforcement and the military.
Not only would the enormous costs of implementing a bullet registration scheme divert critical funding from proven crime fighting initiatives, the proposal could hardly be an effective crime-fighting tool. Consider that, among other things, criminals could:
- Use reloading equipment to produce unmarked ammunition.
- Disassemble rounds of marked ammunition, remove the markings, then reassemble.
- Collect spent shell casings at target ranges and use them to throw police off the trail.
- Steal marked ammunition from registered owners.
- Use handguns that don't eject cartridge cases and leave evidence at crime scenes.
- Buy unmarked ammunition out of state or on the black market.
Additionally, this bill would have a negative impact on our military forces by making all ammunition more expensive and less available due to significantly slower production.
Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), as chairman of the Committee on Armed Services in the U.S. House of Representatives, has expressed his concerns about SB 357 in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The proposal would drive up the price of ammunition, he said, and would lead to "a reduction in cartridges available for target practice, which would leave our armed forces and law enforcement personnel vulnerable on the battlefield and on America's streets." Chairman Hunter urged the Governor "to strongly oppose ammunition serialization on the grounds that it would harm our national and homeland security."
The most likely short-term impact of this legislation would be that ammunition makers would simply abandon the California market, rather than incur the exorbitant costs associated with bullet and cartridge serialization. The net effect would be to rob all Californians of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms--no doubt exactly the result anti-gun politicians have in mind.
Finally, it must be noted that the sponsors of this legislation were given the opportunity to learn first hand about the industry their legislation threatens to destroy. SAAMI invited members of the California legislature as well as Attorney General Lockyer on a tour of an ammunition plant. Not surprisingly, Lockyer and the other bill sponsors failed to take advantage of the opportunity to learn first-hand how ammunition is made, and why this bill is a bad idea.