Friday, January 30, 2009

Prohibitionists scheme to create a black market in ammunition

Hobbled by the Supreme Court decision in D.C. v. Heller, recognizing that individuals have a constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, gun control advocates are roaming the land with virtual lightbulbs over their heads. "Ah ha," they say. "You can have your guns, but we'll control your ammunition." Well, they're not the first to think of the idea, and they won't be the first to discover that "banning"' isn't synonymous with "eliminating."

California already has a law requiring firearms to include "microstamping" technology -- basically, firing pins that imprint traceable information on fired cases. The Brady Campaign wants to turn that into a national mandate (PDF). A group called Ammunition Accountability plans to go a step beyond, laser-engraving all bullets with serial numbers at the factory that could then be traced to purchasers in registered transactions. Laws to that effect have been introduced in 18 states, though none have yet passed. And, of course, some folks just want to ban ammunition altogether and convert firearms into decorative wallhangings.

There are, as you might guess, a few problems with these schemes.

Leave aside the cost of redesigning guns with mocrostamping technology and the challenge of replacing the roughly 270 million non-compliant guns already in circulation and in the hands of people not necessarily inclined to cooperate. Let's say you get it done. There is the added problem that few criminals are prone to purchasing their guns and ammunition in legal transactions requiring them to show their identification. Purchasing either a microstamping gun or laser-etched ammunition in a black-market transaction renders the encoded data useless.

Microstamping has the added flaw of being easy to defeat by swapping out the firing pin or by scraping off the stamping elements with a file. An old knife sharpening stone was used to remove the engraving in about one minute in an experiment (PDF) conducted by George G. Krivosta, of New York's Suffolk County Crime Laboratory. Krivosta said the technique could be performed with "no special equipment or knowledge needed."

So if your hypothetical criminal who shops for the tools of his trade at Wal-Mart does knock over liquor stores with a gun registered to his name, he can defeat microstamping with a rough stone.

The information contained in laser-engraved bullets would be harder to evade -- if they were purchased in registered transactions. But criminals can use ammunition that pre-dates the requirement. They can use stolen ammunition or ammunition purchased on the black market. Or they can use handloaded ammunition made in a commonly available press produced by one of several companies.

Which means that any effective ammunition control scheme would have to ban handloading and (as a failed Pennsylvania bill did) the possession of pre-law ammunition. So any ammunition control scheme, to be effective, inevitably edges toward a ban on ammunition.

Which raises the ultimate question: How effective could an ammunition ban be?

That brings us back to my earlier comment: They're not the first to think of the idea, and they won't be the first to discover that "banning"' isn't synonymous with "eliminating."

It's not that an ammunition ban or severe restriction would have no effect -- it would change things. Recreational shooting would be severely curtailed or destroyed entirely. If you effectively ban shooting, people won't shoot where you can hear or see them. They'll keep their guns and ammo cached out of sight. So a harmless pastime would suffer.

But the people who supposedly concern the government -- criminals, terrorists and political opponents of the powers-that-be -- really wouldn't feel a hit at all. Criminals only need a limited supply of ammunition to pursue their chosen vocations, as do terrorists. Those with political motivations are likely to posess stockpiles of ammunition with lifespans measurable in, at least, decades. And all three categories are willing to go outside the law for what they need.

And manufacturing ammunition isn't that hard. Just ask the Israelis about the Ayalon Institute. That's the name of the illicit factory in which Israeli guerrillas manufactured 40,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition per day to feed the submachine guns they made in another facility for their fight against British authorities. Under threat of the death penalty, the facility was built underground, with a functioning laundry overhead to conceal the operation.

Emulating the Ayalon Institute, the clever folks who currently build meth labs and submarines to smuggle cocaine could certainly knock off enough rounds to feed the black market appetite for ammunition. Especially in a country where making ammunition at home is considered a hobby and reloading equipment is already widely available. Illegal manufacture would be simple. That is, assuming enough couldn't be stolen from military and law-enforcement channels to satisfy demand.

And that's assuming a total ban. Tight restrictions would mean that recreational shooters use registered rounds while criminals stick with black-market ammo.

Look, I mentioned meth labs and cocaine smugglers above. Decades after outlawing drugs, we've accomplished little other than driving the drug trade underground and making it violent and corrosive. Prohibitions result not in compliance, but defiance. There's no reason whatsoever to think that controlling ammunition will be more effective than restrictions on other things that rub some set or other of control freaks the wrong way. People will find ways around any ban, especially for those criminal purposes about which the authorities are supposedly most concerned.

If illicit drug deals have turned dangerous and socially disruptive, just wait until the underground trade is in weapons and ammunition.



Blogger Mully410 said...

Well written. Thank you and keep up the good fight!

January 30, 2009 5:56 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Along that line, for those that haven't seen it, here's a youtube video about gun bans in England. It centers on a pro- gun rights demonstration in England. Just something that was forwarded to me so I thought I'd pass it on. Video runs just over 9 minutes:

In case that link gets screwed up:

January 31, 2009 6:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'the second amendment is not about hunting ducks, its about us protecting ourselves from you'

January 31, 2009 8:55 AM  
Anonymous TJP said...

How do I mount a laser engraver on a mold block?

Do lead bearings count as ammunition? That '58 Remington from your Examiner article is looking better by the day. Too bad I gave away mine years ago.

February 3, 2009 8:41 PM  

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