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Right on target

THE CALIFORNIA SENATE is expected to vote on a bill today that would require all semiautomatic handguns sold here to include a device that marks bullets with a unique identifier so police can more easily trace cartridges found at crime scenes. The Legislature should approve the bill, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should promptly sign it into law.

The technology, known as microstamping, is simple and has been shown effective in tests. It uses small lasers inside the gun to make precise engravings on the face of each bullet. As the weapon is fired, a serial number and the gun’s make and model are stamped onto the cartridge. No two guns leave exactly the same markings.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. June 26, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday June 26, 2006 Home Edition California Part B Page 10 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Guns: An editorial on Thursday about a new technology that gives bullets a unique identifier said it uses a small laser inside the gun to mark each bullet. Lasers are used to etch engravings on the gun parts that are used in the process, but they are not inside the gun.

The bill would address a persistent law-enforcement problem -- most guns used in crimes aren’t found. With microstamping, police need only a bullet cartridge to track owners through the state’s extensive gun-sales database. Very helpful, considering that up to half of all firearms-related homicides in California go unsolved.

Stamping would help solve crimes committed using illegal or stolen guns, which are the hardest to track. For years, gun-control advocates have claimed that three-quarters of the weapons on the black market are supplied by just 1% of dealers. With this law, California would be able to look for patterns among guns involved in crimes to see if any dealers supply a disproportionate share.

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The best arguments that opponents of the bill, such as the National Rifle Assn., can come up with are that the system hasn’t been tried on the state level and that criminals may be able to tamper with the technology, thus rendering it unusable. That’s nonsense. The inventor of microstamping -- an NRA member -- has repeatedly demonstrated in tests across the country how hard it is to disarm. What’s more, it would add only nominal costs for gun manufacturers. Is there any reasonable gun reform the NRA won’t protest?

California has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, but more are needed. The state requires extensive background checks, monthly limits on handgun purchases and records of even secondary handgun sales. This makes its gun-owner database one of the most up-to-date in the country. Adding bullets to the paper trail would help cops do their job better without impeding citizens’ right to bear arms.


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