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California Senate OK likely for bullet coding, tracking system

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE | April 27, 2005
By James P. Sweeney

SACRAMENTO – A major new gun-control plan, a numerical coding and tracking system for bullets, began moving through the Legislature yesterday with heavyweight political support.

Sponsored by Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the measure passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 4-2 vote after a brief hearing. In addition to Lockyer, the bill is co-authored by Senate Leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, and another prominent Democrat, Sen. Joe Dunn of Garden Grove.

The significant backing should carry SB 357 through the Democrat-dominated Senate, leaving any legislative fight to the less-predictable Assembly.

A spokeswoman said Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has no position on the bill, but the governor surprised some last year when he signed a measure outlawing sales of .50-caliber rifles.

Opponents are focused on Schwarzenegger. They distributed an April 25 letter to the governor from Rep. Duncan Hunter, an El Cajon Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, warning that the legislation raises national security concerns.

No other state or country has attempted to set up a system to tag and track ammunition. Under Lockyer's proposal, the bullet or slug in each cartridge would be microstamped with a serial number during the manufacturing process. Ammunition would be packaged in boxes carrying the same code and the purchaser's identify would be recorded with the swipe of a driver's license.

Randy Rossi, the attorney general's firearms specialist, said the system wouldn't be much different the coded tracking system in place for most other consumer products, from soda cans to Tic Tac breath mints.

Testing showed the microscopic serial numbers remain legible more than 90 percent of the time after a bullet is fired, Rossi said.

Only handgun ammunition would be covered, and the legislation would take effect in 2007.

The California Police Chiefs Association and several law enforcement leaders embraced the measure yesterday. "We have more than 1,000 murders every year in Los Angeles County, many which go unsolved," said Los Angeles Assistant Sheriff Doyle Campbell.

Representatives of the firearms industry said the measure would force financially prohibitive changes to the high-volume, low-margin production of most ammunition.

"Any manufacturer that attempts to comply with this would simply go bankrupt in the process," said Lawrence Keane of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.


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