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Bob Schreib Jr. writes "Dear Sirs, This is a recap of an idea that I have already submitted to pretty much all of the forensic science sites on the web. The idea is UPC-Bullet-Tagging. That is, let's use Nanotechnology techniques from the microchip industry to etch microscopic UPC (Universal Product Codes)onto tiny sections or micro-rods of ceramic or stainless steel, and install them inside of ALL newly-manufactured bullets."


"The UPCs will be the same ones on the actual box of bullets sold, when it is scanned by the grocery check-out laser scanners. Require everyone who buys bullets to use a major credit card, or driver's license ID checking procedure done electronically over the web for cash purchases. IF the bullets are used in any crime, the CSI teams can obtain the bullets from the crime scenes or bodies of the victims, extract the UPC-Tag, take a picture of it under a microscope, scan the picture with a regular UPC-laser scanner, and then use a Symbol Technologies tracking software to electronically trace the bullet to the individual person who originally purchased it. If we did this, we would save millions of dollars in crime case investigations costs, and save countless lives, because anybody considering using a gun in a crime would KNOW beforehand that the whole world can now immediately trace his fired bullets back to him. We can also use the same type of micro-lasers used by diamond jewelers to etch identification numbers in their diamonds, to etch UPCs on individual shotgun pellets as well. Anyway, please pass this idea to the REAL experts in Nanotechnology."

9 Responses to “UPC-Bullet-Tagging”

  1. Dr_Barnowl Says:

    I don't think this one will run, Bob

    For reference, Bob is Director of Product Marketing at Symbol

    I can see several flaws in your plan, Bob.

    Firstly, UPC codes are not a unique identifier for a particular box of bullets ; they serve as a "Universal" identifier for that particular line of product. To create a new, univerally used, numbering system for individual boxes of ammunition would be a significant undertaking.

    Secondly, the expense of producing nanoscopic numbered identifiers in very small batches would be significant, even more so considering they would have to survive being cast in molten metal. I'd imagine that the cost would outweight the cost of the typical box of ammunition by some order of magnitude.

    A system like this already exists for taser weapons where serial numbered identifiers are dispersed by the propellant on firing (anti-felon identification or AFID). However, these identifiers are plastic and would probably be destroyed by the ignition of firearm propellants.

    Thirdly, your proposal would not cover handloaded rounds. If legislation was passed, you'd simply create a large black market in handloaded ammunition.

    Lastly, the gun-using community is highly aware of their civil liberties and are likely to oppose this proposal quite harshly, and they have a strong lobby.

  2. Chemisor Says:

    I think it will

    > To create a new, univerally used, numbering system

    It doesn't have to be universally used. Gradual adoption will bring benefits as well.

    > the expense of producing nanoscopic numbered identifiers
    > in very small batches would be significant

    I don't think so. You'd start with a spool of wire. It is coated with a photosensitive material and passed under a laser barcode writer. Then the wire is etched in an acid bath. All of this can be done as the wire is being rolled from one spool to another. Then you machine cut it into pieces and add to the bullets. Sounds like a pretty cheap and fast production line.

    > even more so considering they would have to
    > survive being cast in molten metal.

    Bullets are made from lead with a copper jacket. Both metals have relatively low melting points, so even regular steel wire will do for the tags.

    > Thirdly, your proposal would not cover handloaded rounds.

    You mean hand-cast rounds. Reloading usually involves commercially made bullets, because all you need then is powder and a press. Most people don't have neither equipment nor skill to make their own bullets.

    > the gun-using community is highly aware of their civil liberties

    Tagging bullets is not really all that different from registering guns. Bullets can already be matched to the gun from which they came. Furthermore, most gun owners expect to use their bullets in self-defense, when the police would likely find a dead bleeding burglar in the living room of whoever shot him, and so would have little doubt about the origin of the bullets.

  3. elvisisdead Says:

    Re:I don't think this one will run, Bob

    Not to mention all of the above reasons, but it will fail for the following reasons: 1) Current litigation has failed to find ammunition manufacturers liable for crimes committed with their product. They have no incentive to adopt this method freely. 2) The users of cartridges would NEVER buy a box with this feature (I count myself included). If I'm not required to register my gun, I'm sure as hell not going to register bullets. 3) You would have to do tons of research to ensure that adding any material to the bullet itself wouldn't change it's properties during flight. I'm sure everyone would rush right out to get a box of the traceable inaccurate bullets. 4) Hand-loads aside, it's just as easy to buy Russian, Greek, or Italian rounds that wouldn't have this feature. You would just force overseas purchases. 5) What happens if my cartridges are stolen? Who do I report that to? Who keeps track of this database of bullet registration information? The ATF? Local PDs? Where does that funding come from? An interesting idea, but too many obstacles to implementation. The primary one is that users don't want it and wouldn't buy it.

  4. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Nice conceptually but…..

    take a look at any gun suppliers catalog… you can make your own bullets cheaply.. so i would just melt raw metal and make my own shells… then use a loader to load them… you only have to take a bullet to make a mold, so a person doing this doesnt even have to buy anything as all they need to do is replace the bullet and insert new on in the casing… you can also steal bullets… given that most guns used in crimes are used by criminals this isnt such a leap. (god help the person they were stolen from if they have no alibi) perhaps how we raise kids and people today might be a better way to control the problem given that sincve we broke away from a succesful part of the past, we have been going down hill since… this kind of thing is more like spending all your time plugging leak after leak in a badly constructed damn… and forgeting the psychology that the technology is to address… also just to let you know.. such taggants already exist and are used all over.. so the patent would not be available to you if it was written right (the principal would cover all manner of taggants, rather than specific materials)… good luck!

  5. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Yeah, criminals would *never* steal bullets

    Scenario #1: thief uses stolen credit card to buy a case of "marked" ammo, resells it on the street.

    Scenario #2: non-criminal bought "unmarked" ammo by the case, stored it out in the garage; thief steals it twenty years later, resells it on the street.

    Scenario #3: enterprising crook hears about upcoming law, visits local gun show, pays cash for two dozen cases of ammo (12,000 rounds), stores it away to resell on the street later.

    Scenario #4: tens of thousands of gun owners hear about stupid new laws that will dramatically increase the price of ammo, and mail-order a few extra cases before it takes effect. Enterprising crook makes deal with UPS drivers to "lose" a few shipments, resells them on the street.

    Scenario #5: tracing bullets back to retail point-of-sale turns out not to be particularly useful for catching criminals, but is claimed as a success anyway.


  6. Anonymous Coward Says:

    I'm pretty sure it won't

    > Gradual adoption will bring benefits as well.

    To whom? Not to the public, certainly, because there are billions of "unmarked" cartridges in the US today, and will be for decades to come. They're not particularly perishable items, and the typical criminal use of a gun involves few or no shots fired.

    >Then you machine cut it into pieces and add to the bullets.
    >Sounds like a pretty cheap and fast production line.

    Yes, because you left out the data-recording requirement, where the ID number etched onto the wire is tracked by every machine on the production line, to make sure that you know which retail box it went into.

    >Most people don't have neither equipment nor skill to make their own bullets.

    Only because they haven't bothered to spend the $100 it takes for a basic casting setup, or they prefer to avoid the lead exposure. It's just easier to buy them from someone else.

    It's a strawman, anyway; it would almost certainly be easier to just steal ammo that someone else bought than to go into production for yourself.

    >Tagging bullets is not really all that different from registering guns.

    True, in the sense that neither one has much to do with solving violent crimes. Not so true when you think about the scale of data you're tracking, or the costs you're imposing on non-criminal gun users.

    >Furthermore, most gun owners expect to use their bullets in self-defense,

    Actually, most gun owners expect to use their bullets to punch holes in tin cans and paper targets. That's what the vast majority of the several billion cartridges manufactured annually are used for.


  7. Sky Sigal Says:

    Just came across this thread by chance…interesting!

    Yes. As stated above, there are lots of reasons that this would be hard to pass:
    * Opposition by manufacturers,
    * Opposition by gun owners,
    * Lag of time before existing bullets become used up and idea becomes effective.
    * Potential to get around the system by criminals using credit cards/ups/etc schemes.

    But just because there is opposition, so what: there is a far better reason to go ahead anyway: potential victims.

    * Most crimes are not by criminals, but hurried mistakes. So it will improve dramatically the chances of finding the source in most cases. Not all, but most. Finding just half of them would be a success. Hell, a quarter would be good too.
    * It will not affect trajectory: the physics of a spinning entity with a weight increase of less than 1/2% of the the total bullet weight will be evenly distributed.
    * Although it will take a long time to absorb unmarked bullets, they WILL be absorbed sooner or later. At first, it will be 99% untagged, to 1% untagged, by by 2020, when my child is an adult, it will be 80/20, and when her children are grown up, 99/1. It takes time: I wish it were faster, but I can live with slowness as long as it is a better option than sitting around throwing out ALL ideas that are proposed because it won’t cover every single loop hole. Because there never will be one.
    * Increasing the cost of bullets would be a good thing. It makes better marksmen :-) And frankly, other than a month or two of grumbling is a non-issue: if cigarette smokers are willing to pay double what it was 5 years ago, increasing the cost of bullets will go down just fine over time.
    * Circumvention: although the constitution protects the rights to bear arms, it is a federal offense to play with mail…If the penalty for losing UPS bullets were so sever that nobody would do it even for a couple of thousand, the UPS guy would really do all he could to ensure that bullets were not lost. So although it would still happen, it wouldn’t happen as often as predicted above.
    * As for credit card theft: yes, that happens. Visa, MC corporations have a LOT of incentives at finding solutions to this problem, and although easy at present to steal CCards, this too will decrease over time.
    * As for side benefits, nationaly our economy is being battered for several reasons: to extend our grace period before we grow up and take care of our massive over spending, while not working as hard as other countries, we could do with a little help: be able to impose trade restrictions on countries that are caught selling un tagged bullets would help us. Incidently, help us pay for the slightly more expensive bullets.
    * As for the fear of using tagged bullets for defense: one must either believe in the US and what it stands for, including its constitutional judicial system, or one doesn’t. One can’t have it both ways. To cry for the protection of the constitutional right to bear arms, but to hoard untagged bullets ‘just in case’, because one doesn’t believe the judicial system will find one innocent in a case of self-defense, is shallow hypocrisy. The right to bear arms was not to just bear arms. It was to bear arms to defend the constitution, as long as by the people. Easy to have a gun, but to have conviction, and stand by ones convictions is a much better test of a man’s character and strength.

    So yes, there will be a LOT of opposition.
    But yes, its the best idea yet, and should be implemented atleast until a better one is proposed.

  8. Wingnut Says:

    I’m interested in this technology. Can someone direct me to a manufacturer that provides the equipment.

  9. chuck Says:

    wont work

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