Ammunition Summary

Posted on September 25, 2008

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Americans use upwards of seven billion rounds of small arms (rifle, shotgun and handgun) ammunition every year, mostly for target practice, competition and hunting. Commercial manufacturers produce most small arms ammunition used by private citizens, all small arms ammunition used by law enforcement agencies, and all small arms ammunition used by our armed forces. (Commercial manufacturers operate military ammunition plants, and produce ammunition for the armed forces in their own plants as well.) Many improvements in firearms that were developed for private citizens have later been adopted by law enforcement agencies and the armed forces, and the same is true for ammunition (for example, particularly accurate varieties of rifle ammunition developed for civilian marksmanship competitions).

For decades, when gun control supporters have failed to get severe restrictions on guns through Congress and state legislatures, they have tried instead to restrict ammunition in one way or another.

“Encoded/Serialized Ammunition”: In the 1930s, when gun control supporters failed to achieve national firearm registration, they proposed an ammunition registration scheme envisioning a small tape bearing a serial number being implanted in every bullet, and people being required to register ammunition purchases with their names and fingerprints. The idea lay dormant until 1969, when President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence recommended “to implant an identifying capsule with a distinctive number in each bullet and require firearms dealers who sell the ammunition to maintain records of the persons who buy all such numbered ammunition.”

Not long ago, one company claimed to possess technology sufficient to turn the 80-year-old concept into reality, and gun control supporters in more than a dozen states quickly introduced so-called “encoded” or “serialized” ammunition legislation to prohibit the manufacture and sale of ammunition unless its bullet and cartridge case are marked with a code and registered to its owner in a computerized database. Indicative of the ultimate purpose behind the legislation, it would also require gun owners to forfeit any non-coded ammunition they possess, without compensation.

“Micro-stamping”: Another of the LBJ-era commission’s recommendations, “a system of giving each gun a number and the development of some device to imprint this number on each bullet fired from the gun”—now termed “micro-stamping”—was mandated in California at the end of 2007, to take effect in 2010. In 2008, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced a bill in Congress, supported by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), to mandate micro-stamping nationwide. Even if micro-stamping worked from a technological standpoint, however, it would be relevant to only a small percentage of guns, namely handguns made after the law took effect and acquired from retail dealers. (The 250+ million guns already owned would not be affected, nor would newly-manufactured rifles and shotguns, and nine out of 10 guns used in crime are acquired through unregulated channels.) The main purpose of micro-stamping legislation is to price handguns beyond the reach of many Americans, by requiring handguns to be made with gadgetry capable of creating the required stampings upon the ammunition.

Taxes: Another proposal to make gun ownership too expensive for most Americans, has been to drastically increase the federal excise tax on ammunition, from the current 11 percent to as much as 1,000 percent. In 1974, Kennedy said “if [banning handguns] is not feasible we may be obliged to place strict bans on the production and distribution of ammunition. No bullets, no shooting.” Since then, Kennedy and others in Congress have introduced bills to ban or impose prohibitive taxes on .25, .32, 9mm, 5.7x28mm, and .50 caliber ammunition; cartridge cases under 1.3 inches in length; hollow-point bullets; ammunition that “serves no substantial sporting purpose and serves primarily to kill human beings”; and (via the Consumer Products Safety Commission) “defective” ammunition. Sen. Obama supports prohibitive ammunition taxes.

“Armor-Piercing Ammunition”: Over the years, Kennedy and others have also tried to ban commonplace ammunition used for hunting, target shooting and other legitimate purposes by amending the federal “armor piercing ammunition” law, which currently restricts bullets made with certain metals and jacket constructions designed to penetrate protective vests worn by law enforcement officers. The change, supported by Sen. Obama, would ban any bullet that can be used in a handgun and that can penetrate the least protective vest worn by law enforcement officers. The concept has been rejected by the Justice and Treasury departments.

Such a ban would affect virtually all center-fire rifle ammunition and many calibers of handgun ammunition, because many rifle bullets can be used in hunting and target handguns, and minimum-protection vests are not designed to protect against center-fire rifle ammunition or the more powerful varieties of handgun ammunition, regardless of how their bullets are constructed. Kennedy has claimed that he is not trying to ban hunting ammunition, but he has objected to private citizens having .30-30 Winchester ammunition, the most popular deer hunting ammunition in American history.

Ammunition That Expands: Along with calling for banning ammunition that penetrates, gun control supporters have also called for banning ammunition designed instead to expand (self-defense and hunting ammunition). This is comparable to them claiming that handguns should be banned because they are small, and that rifles should be banned because they are large.

Conclusion: Goldilocks thought one bowl of porridge was too hot, and another too cold, but she eventually found a bowl that was “just right.” Gun control supporters’ complaints never end. Their many attempts to ban or prohibitively tax one or another type of ammunition, under one or another guise, are just some of many ways that they try to eliminate or severely curtail the ownership and use of firearms by private citizens.

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