California bill would increase cost of law enforcement weapons


A bill introduced Tuesday in the California General Assembly would remove an exemption for handguns used by police officers from an existing law requiring microstamping, increasing the cost of law enforcement weapons that would eventually be paid by taxpayers.

Microstamping is a ballistics identification technology in which microscopic markings are engraved inside a weapon using a laser. When the gun is fired, the markings are imprinted onto the cartridge case head. Proponents say the unique markings can be used by law enforcement when they recover shell casings at a crime scene by entering the information into a database to trace the last registered owner.

The National Sports Shooting Foundation estimates that microstamping would increase the cost of a handgun by about $200. While it is true that most police officers are required to buy their own weapons and ammunition from a preapproved list, they are generally compensated via an equipment allowance that is added to their paycheck. Officers usually replace their service weapon every two to three years at a current cost of $600 to $800 each time and would expect to see their equipment allowance increase if the technology is required.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California has just under 79,500 law enforcement officers including city, county and statewide agencies.

California’s existing law, titled the Unsafe Handguns Act, was passed in 2007 and requires all new handgun models sold in the state to have microstamping included. As such, no new handgun models have been introduced into the California market since then. The bill had the support of just 65 police chiefs and county sheriffs out of more than 500.

The new bill’s sponsor, Democrat Jesse Gabriel, said his intent is to force the hand of gun makers.

“For too long, gun manufacturers have prioritized ideology over safety and fought commonsense efforts to incorporate microstamping technology into new firearms,” he said in a news release. “Our legislation will allow California to use its market power to overcome this obstinance and dramatically expand the use of this important technology.”

The National Sports Shooting Foundation said microstamping is unworkable for several reasons. The group says the technology can be defeated by sanding the microstamp off a weapon’s firing pin in much the same way criminals erase an illegal gun’s serial number.

As for police officers and deputies, the microstamp in their weapons would quickly wear off due to the thousands of rounds they fire each year as part of their training.

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