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California proposes requiring bullet ID numbers

Reuters | April 27 2005

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's attorney general introduced pioneering legislation on Tuesday that would require all bullets sold in the nation's most populous state to bear tiny identification numbers.

The bill, aimed at helping investigators solve crime, would require ammunition vendors to submit sales records to a state registry starting in 2007. Anyone bringing bullets into the state not bearing the tiny serial number etched by laser could be punished for up to a year in prison.

"We are losing too many of our young people to seemingly random shootings and anonymous killers," California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a statement. The bill "will strip criminals of their anonymity and give law enforcement evidence it can use to quickly and effectively solve more gun crimes."

The legislation -- which could become the first of its kind nationwide -- calls for California to assess fees not to exceed one-half of one cent per bullet to fund the program.

The controversial proposal could spark another major gun control debate in California, a state with some of the toughest U.S. gun control laws. Gun rights groups oppose the idea, saying criminals could easily obtain unmarked ammunition and say the plan would require a costly bureaucracy.

Ravensforge, a Seattle company which has developed a bullet coding system, says bullet engraving machines cost $300,000 (127,000 ponds) to $500,000 each. But the firm says that because the United States sells ten billion bullets a year, the per bullet cost will be very low.

Ammunition manufacturers disagree.

"Although I understand the good intent behind the bill, from a manufacturing perspective it's virtually impossible, both from a cost perspective and keeping the bullet serialization in tact," said Gary Svendsen, a Federal Cartridge Company official who earlier testified at a legislative hearing in Sacramento, California.

"It would virtually obsolete tens of millions of dollars of existing manufacturing equipment," said Svendsen, who is director of quality and product service at the Anoka, Minnesota-based company.