July 26, 2004
Ammunition Coding System - A Revolutionary Way to Identify Bullets
Almost every day you can open your local newspaper and read a story about a shooting where no evidence is left, except the victim and a bullet. According to the Untied States Department of Justice, there is at least a 37% chance of never finding a killer in a crime involving a firearm. By making the bullet itself a more useable piece of evidence (without having to also find the gun) we can greatly increase the chance that law enforcement will solve more crimes.
Ravensforge has developed a patent pending technology: the Ammunition Coding System ("ACS"). ACS will assign a unique code to every bullet sold. By maintaining a record of purchases of ammunition, law enforcement personnel will be able to easily trace the ownership of any ammunition involved in a crime.
The ballistic fingerprinting system which is currently under consideration is an alternative plan to ACS. However, ballistic fingerprinting has many weaknesses. Most importantly, it won't deal with the millions of guns currently owned. It is estimated that at any given point in time there is only a four to five year supply of ammunition in the marketplace. Because of these ongoing sales, ACS will provide current and updated information on all ammunition users. This information won't be available if gun ownership is used as the primary source of identification.
In 1992, approximately 5.4 billion bullets were sold in the US alone. It is safe to assume that this number is trending upward. We estimate that 8-10 billion bullets were sold in the US in 2002. ACS has the capacity to accommodate this rate of sales for decades to come without duplicating the codes.
The design of our engraving system will allow law enforcement personnel to identify the code on a bullet, if even as little as 20% of the base remains intact. Since bullets are designed for the base to remain solid and in its original shape, the probability of our codes being legible after use is very high. Tests have shown a 99% success rate in determining the code after firing the coded ammunition.
We are soliciting ideas on how to implement ACS, as well as recommendations for improvements to its use or design. We will be happy to meet with you to further discuss and explain this unique and potentially valuable system to aid law enforcement professionals.
Ammunition Coding System - Q & A's
What is being proposed?
The Ammunition Coding System ("ACS") creates a unique code that is engraved or similarly marked on every bullet sold. This engraving will be placed on both the projectile and the inside of the cartridge casing. Each code would be common to one box of bullets and unique from all other ammunition sold. This code would be tracked and a record maintained identifying who bought that particular box of bullets. This will allow law enforcement personnel to trace who purchased a bullet or bullets found at a crime scene.
What will it cost?
A database management contractor will maintain a record of all ammunition sales. Each ammunition retailer will be required to report the ACS code and information identifying the purchaser to the database manager. This information will be available only to authorized law enforcement personnel.
This system won't necessarily prove who pulled the trigger, nor does ballistic fingerprinting, but it will provide law enforcement with a place to begin their investigation.
The cost to implement this system is substantial, but results in a small cost per bullet for the end users. There are several significant manufacturers of ammunition. Each one would have to purchase at least one, if not more; laser engraving machines and material handlers. We have received estimates that each set of equipment would cost $300,000 to $500,000. A licensing fee will also be applied to each bullet sold. However, since there are approximately 10 billion bullets sold in the United States alone each year, the equipment costs, once amortized over the number of bullets sold, are insignificant. There will also be administrative costs for the retailers. All of these costs will most likely be passed onto the purchaser, making this a system paid for by user fees. How big a burden will the ACS be on retailers?
The system of recording identification is easy in areas that have implemented bar coding of drivers licenses and other forms of identification. Manufacturers will include the code in the bar coding on each box of bullets, so retailers will be able to scan the box of bullets and the purchasers drivers license and have the required information without any significant expense of time.Why is the ACS better than ballistic fingerprinting?
- Doesn't require any special training or equipment for law enforcement to use (other than a good magnifying glass).
- Determination of the code on the bullet doesn't require any special skills and is not subjective.
- Major manufacturers already use bar coding for inventory control and management. The code assigned to each box would be an easy addition to this system.
- The system makes it difficult for someone without special tools and training to circumvent.
- Information derived from the ACS will be contemporary, since it is estimated that there is no more than a 4-5 year supply of ammunition in circulation at any one time.
- By using the ACS system when engraving the bullet; the code is identifiable if as little as 20% of the base of the bullet is still intact.
How could the system be circumvented?
- The system currently being proposed will be expensive to create and maintain.
- The unique characteristics of the fingerprinting system are easy to alter.
- Regular use of a firearm will change the unique characteristics of a firearm.
- Judging the comparison of a bullet to the signature of a firearm requires a subjective determination which is prone to human error.
- Ballistic fingerprinting takes considerable time and is expensive to perform.
- Information isn't available on the millions of firearms already in existence. Information on new firearms will be outdated long before the firearm is no longer in use.
The ACS can be circumvented by any of the following methods:
However, we would argue that the person who is going to hold up the corner convenience store is unlikely to do any of these things. Since the vast majority of gun crimes are crimes of passion, few people will ever consider a premeditated attempt to circumvent the proposed system.
- Someone could cast their own bullets and load them themselves.
- A person could buy a coded bullet, disassemble it, file the number off, and reassemble the cartridge/bullet combination.
- Someone could buy a lifetime supply of ammunition before the ACS goes into effect.
Does the ACS violate our Second Amendment rights?
No. However, every effort should be used to be sensitive to the objections of gun rights advocates. The information that retailers obtain about the bullet purchaser should not be available to anyone but law enforcement. How does the system get implemented?
As with most gun related laws, each state or country will need to legislate the requirement that the ACS be used. Our system of coding will allow an almost infinite number of codes and is easily understood. By requiring the use of our Coding System, each area will assure that there are no conflicts between manufacturers. A common system of coding will prevent duplication between areas, and avoid making the manufacturers implement several different coding systems. How many unique codes are available?
There are 90 unique characters on a standard keyboard. We propose to use these characters in six columns in conjunction with three characters that will identify the beginning and end of the code sequence. This results in 1.6 trillion codes. Typically, bullets come in boxes of either 20 or 50 and different calibers of bullets can be assigned the same code, so the total number of bullets that can be coded before duplicating a code is as much as 637 trillion bullets.
If you have any questions, concerns, or input, please contact Ammunition Coding System at:
We could also use five characters for some bullets increasing the number of bullets before duplication to 744 trillion.
Finally, if we use most of the 256 characters available in the standard character set, the number of codes becomes almost infinite.
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