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Mayor, Police Chief Endorse Bullet-Identification Measure

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton added their support Wednesday to a bill requiring gun manufacturers to build handguns that would stamp bullet casings with serial numbers -- an innovation intended to speed investigations by making it easier to link bullets to the weapons that fired them.

The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), would only affect the manufacture of new semiautomatic handguns, but Bratton and others said it would aid officers in investigating gun violence.

Speaking to reporters at a City Hall news conference, Villaraigosa added his “support for this strong public safety measure.”

Proponents say the etching technology would imprint each gun’s serial number on bullet casings when the firing pin of the weapon struck the cartridge. They argue that such microscopic imprinting could not be easily tampered with because other identifying marks would reveal what gun fired the bullet.

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By cross-checking bullet casings with existing state databases on gun purchases, authorities say they could quickly figure out what gun had fired the bullets recovered from a crime scene.

Opponents complain that the bill would do little to deter criminals, and even Bratton acknowledged that only a small percentage of Los Angeles gun crime is caused by criminals using properly registered weapons.

Holding up a bullet before the mayoral press corps, Bratton said the technology nevertheless could help investigators quickly determine who owned a gun and where it was sold, among other things.

“This is common sense,” Bratton said. “Can we not start to have some common sense on this issue?”

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In addition to skepticism about the bill’s impact, some critics charge that the etching on the firing pins of guns would quickly degrade, rendering the technology ineffective.

Moreover, some maintain that the markings could be inadvertently erased by gun owners cleaning and caring for their weapons.

“If you fix your gun, you face a felony,” according to the National Rifle Assn.'s Members’ Council position paper opposing the bill.

Koretz complained that opponents have distorted the bill and “mounted a massive campaign to defeat it.”

As introduced, the legislation (AB 352) would affect only new semiautomatic handguns. Asked why it did not cover other handguns, neither Villaraigosa nor Koretz could answer, and Bratton said he had asked the same question.

A staff member interjected that authors had elected to focus on semiautomatics because they eject shells while revolvers do not.

As a result, shootings with semiautomatics more often result in shells left behind for police to investigate.


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