Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beware of the Ammunition Coding System

I daresay many of my readers are firearms owners of one sort or another: hunters, target-shooters, law enforcement personnel, citizens who take seriously their Second Amendment rights, and so forth.

All of us will be affected by what I regard as a sleazy, underhanded money-grabbing effort by a US company - if they get it right.

Ammunition Coding System (ACS) was established by three Seattle entrepeneurs to market a technology that would identify any bullet fired from any gun. It involves etching an identifying code onto the base of the bullet, so that after it's recovered from a crime scene, the code can be read by forensic detectives. Their idea is that every box of ammunition sold in the USA would be registered to the purchaser by means of this code, and the fired bullet could thus be linked to the person who bought it. ACS claims that this would be a valuable crime-fighting tool.

Now comes the interesting bit. The founders of ACS have patented their technology, but they can't seem to get any ammunition manufacturers to implement it, apparently because of the costs involved. They've therefore come up with what I consider an underhanded, devious scheme to force the use of their patent, and foist the costs involved onto us - the bullet-buying public.

They've formed an organization called Ammunition Accountability. This organization is nothing more or less than a front for ACS and its founders. It's trying to promote ACS's technology, and is sponsoring legislation in as many States as it can manage, trying to mandate the use of that technology on ammunition sold in those States. So far, no State has passed any law to that effect: but efforts to do so are under way in Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington. If your State isn't listed, don't worry: it'll be coming your way soon!

Key points of their proposed legislation (taken from their Web site) are:

  • All handgun and assault weapon ammunition manufactured or sold in the state after a given date must be coded by the manufacturer. Furthermore, not later than a subsequent date, usually no more than two years after the adoption of the coding requirement, all non-coded ammunition in the possession of businesses or private individuals must be disposed of. (There goes your ammo stash, friends.)
  • The State concerned would have to designate or establish an agency to keep track of ammunition sales, and all ammo vendors would have to register with that agency, log the identity of any and every purchaser of ammunition, and supply those details to the agency.
  • All costs involved would be funded by a levy on the price of ammunition. Their sample legislation gives a proposed figure of $0.005 per round of ammunition. That translates to one-tenth of a cent on a box of 20 rounds, or one-quarter of a cent on a box of 50 rounds.

That levy sounds minor, doesn't it? Suuure . . . but when you get to crunching the numbers, things start to look rather more rosy for ACS. Current figures are hard to come by, but in 1992, according to an ACS press release, "approximately 5.4 billion bullets were sold in the US alone." (I understand this excludes military and export sales.) At a rate of $0.005 per bullet, the revenues from sales of such ammunition - if it were coded - would amount to about $27,000,000. The actual figure might well be considerably higher, for two reasons. First, ammo sales have risen since 1992, although I don't know the exact numbers. Second, if you think that ammo manufacturers or retailers are going to bother to put a $0.005 charge per bullet on their books, think again! They'll probably add a dollar or two to the price of each box of ammo, and blame it on the bullet coding costs, while pocketing the extra profit.

So, if we take that 1992 figure of 5.4 billion bullets, and package them into boxes, we'll get a better picture. I'm informed that about two-thirds of retail ammo sales are in 20-round boxes, and one-third in 50-round boxes. If that's the case, applying it to the total number of bullets sold in 1992 gives us sales of about 180 million 20-round boxes, and about 36 million 50-round boxes, or 216 million boxes of ammo in total. If the manufacturers and retailers slap on an extra dollar per box, which I think is very likely, that's $216,000,000 more that you and I will be paying for ammo. How much of it will end up in ACS's pocket is anyone's guess.

We'd also be saddled with another State bureaucracy, gathering information about us. What's the bet that it'll cost more than the ammo levies bring in? And who makes up the shortfall? That's right - you and I, the taxpayers. What about the effect on our privacy? Do you want your personal details recorded every time you buy a box of .22 ammo for plinking? Darned if I do . . .

There you have it, readers. A company wants to impose greater costs, greater State-level government bureaucracy, and an intrusive, privacy-invading tracking system on us, solely for the sake of its own profit. Safety be damned! I'll wager these guys aren't remotely interested in safety. They can hear the ka-Ching! of cash registers, and their mouths are watering. In essence, they're trying to persuade our State legislators to force us to make them rich.

I urge all readers to watch for proposals for similar legislation in their States. If you see something like this rear its ugly head, I urge you to write to your State legislators, pointing out the drawbacks to this scheme, and questioning whether the State should legally allow one company to enrich itself at the expense of your State's already hard-pressed taxpayers. This needs to be exposed for the money-grab that it is, and resisted at every step. If we don't, we'll be paying a lot more, and our already-threadbare right to privacy will be even further damaged.

For those of my readers who are bloggers, I'd be grateful if you'd please publicize this issue yourselves, either by posting a link to this article on your blogs, or writing your own. I've included links to the main Web sites concerned, so you can research the subject for yourselves. Let's make sure that all our shooting readers are aware of this threat, and mobilized to oppose it.



Anonymous said...

Do we even need to ask what this proposed legislation would do to reloaders?

Mo. We do not.

AnarchAngel said...

Let's not forget the fact that it doesn't work.

Aside from the freedom and privacy issues (which I think are more important), it doesn't actually work.

Independent tests have proven you can only recover the ID about 10% of the time under most circumstances, and about 30% of the time under ideal circumstances.

Even the California state police say it doesn't work.

Peter said...

Chris, you may be mixing up ammo encoding with microstamping technology. I agree, the latter is very ineffective: but tests by ACS claim an almost 100% recovery rate for their codes from fired bullets. Details are on their Web site, linked in the article.

This probably will work - but it's still a monstrous intrusion on our privacy, and they're still looking for a license to print money at our expense.

Anonymous said...

They won't enforce this until Obama
gets his 250,000 man Gestapo up and running. Rock meet hard place.

Julie said...

what an awful proposal ... let's hope gun owners in the US have enough numbers and power to stop this coming in.

Anonymous said...

Let's see here; the company that has sole ownership of the technology tests its own product and finds that it works 100% of the time.
WOW!! Big surprise.

Anonymous said...

I’ll bet someone could make a fortune pulling coded bullets and replacing them with untraceable homemade cast lead bullets. So easy even a caveman could do it. Of course, nobody would do that because it would be against the law (Ha!).
AJT from Ohio

Anonymous said...

I will link to this on my blog. snd put s link on the gun forums I read. Rick

Anonymous said...

Yeah, we'll dispose of all of our "non-coded" ammo--we'll "deliver" it to Obama's storm troopers who come and try to collect it!

Don't Tread On Us


Simeron Steelhammer said...

On top of everything else, this reminds me of the term "temporary tax"....

It's temporary until they make it permanent...

And how long do you think it will take for them to start UPPING that tax on ammo?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see some facts on how this scheme will impact reloaders.

Gewehr98 said...

Blog link added.

Links also emailed to many gun-owning friends.

I'd like to say as a reloader and bullet caster, that it wouldn't affect me, but the repercussions of this particularly onerous scheme range far and wide.

Anonymous said...

Should work GREAT... if you're a FOREIGN ammunition maker! :-o Why SHOULDN'T we buy more foreign ammunition - we buy everything ELSE from foreigners... :-(

Old NFO said...

Of course if you want to defeat it, just go to the range, pick up spent cases and throw them out at the scene too... Now which is the actual case that was used in the commission of the crime???

Anonymous said...

Gewehr98 said.. above that it wouldn't affect him cause he reloads. Yeah you think it won't??? Try the state/fed govt mandating int that legislation this be done by ammunition companies. Are you an ammunition company? Can you apply for expensive permits to purchase special equipment to encode your own bullets. Then how will that be mandated. Your dead dead wrong if you think that reloaders won't be affected. There will be no reloading. This is insane we are even talking about this. The 3 guys doing this are not pro 2nd ammendment. Again this is insane legislation that will prove at the scene of the crime was ammo bought and used by a criminal who stole it. That is already the case.

rremington said...

And imagine all the record keeping required for the dealers! I'm sure a lot of them will figure that it won't be worth the trouble to sell ammo.

wv: hotte what a chick with a gun is

Roger said...

I work for an ammunition manufacturer, and from ACS's web site it seems to me that they may have little understanding of commercial ammunition manufacture. For example, in working out the costs of implementing their system, they talk about a "reliable estimate" of a cost to each manufacturer of $300,000 to $500,000. That's absurd. On one of our lines we recently had a project to install a new piece of equipment, a standard "accessory" if you like, from a well-known manufacturer, that was designed specifically for our line. NOT including the new machine itself, the all up cost of shipping, installation, commissioning and product re-testing and safety analysis, security, equipment safety checks, workplace licensing, operator and maintenance staff retraining, documentation, contract administration and redoing the sales and marketing literature etc. etc. etc. came to about $3 million. The price was that low because, as I said, this was an established, already tested machine designed for our line -- and it's a much smaller change to process than what ACS is suggesting.

This isn't Lego Technic, it's a giant freaking factory, and it costs more than $300 k to reseal the parking lots. (Which we do quite frequently, because we are justifiably paranoid about grit getting into production areas.)

Some manufacturers have multiple production lines, and even on one line, when operating at "full noise" it is producing dozens of rounds per second. In fact the mean production rate is approximately 100 rounds per second per manufacturer. And that's just the mean; those huge machines have to be stopped for maintenance from time to time.

I don't know that much about laser engravers but the idea that they could keep up with that seems pretty unlikely to me. I googled "high-speed laser engraving" and found manufacturers boasting speeds of a few hundred characters per second. Impressive tech, but not even in the ballpark of fast enough for ACS's evil schemes.

Roger said...

Hmm, and sorry to double post, but it has just occurred to me how easy it is for criminals to defeat this system: just swap ammunition. One sealed box of factory ammo for another of the same, no names no pack drill.