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Billions of bullets: Cheap and unregulated

According to Wired magazine, 10 billion bullets are manufactured in the United States every year.

As Congress and the White House try to figure out gun control legislation, there's some support for limiting high-capacity magazines. That, in turn, has turned at least part of the debate about guns to a debate about bullets.

Joanna Pearlstein is a senior editor at Wired magazine and her latest piece looks at the business of bullets.

"There's about 10 billion bullets manufactured in the United States every year," said Pearlstein.

Federal regulations mostly restrict buying bullets based on who you are, said Pearlstein. For example,there are limits and restrictions for those are who are not in the country legally, those who are dishonorably discharged from the military, those who have certain felony convictions or for those under the age of 18.

"That said," she continued, "there's not a lot of background checks that are being done. So the onus is on you as the purchaser to basically be honest when you go into a store and buy ammunition."

Comedian Chris Rock once famously stated in a stand-up routine that instead of gun control, "all bullets should cost $5,000."

Pearlstein said you can really see why a bullet tax might be a good idea. "As cigarette taxes have increased over the years, consumption of cigarettes has declined; the tobacco industry has been up in arms about this for years," she said. "It stands to reason that if you can buy a box of 50 bullets for $20, maybe if that box cost $40 or $80 or $10,000, maybe we'd be buying fewer of them."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Kai, Marketplace has had some of my all-time favorite articles such as "toxie" and I really dont want to believe that this biased junk journalism with no counterpoint was intentional. I would rather give you the benefit of the doubt that you are simply unfamiliar with firearms and were bamboozled by your guest.

Ill give you a chance to redeem yourself. Google "A few thoughts on gun control" at Eudaimonia on wordpress. Read the (rather long) article and you will will not be fooled by the next guest that wants to use you as a platform for their propaganda and is counting on your ignorance of the subject.

I am very disappointed in the pseudo journalism of this story. I may not be old enough remember when Taxes were levied on newspaper ink and paper to prevent the flow of free speech. The Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional and violated the 1st amendment. How is this different. Is the 1st better than the 2nd or the 5th, 14th? No the Constitution is to prevent the few with money from running the country. I expect more from this organization, true journalism.

This is the first story that I have heard where Kai, and any contributors just did not get it, and did not ask any thing other than superficial questions.

The Individual Right To Keep and Bear Arms is enshrined in our Bill of Rights. There is no enumerated right to smoke, just as there is no enumerated right to drive a car or a horse and buggy.

Until such time as our elected representatives amend The Constitution individual firearm ownership and use (which happens to require appropriate ammunition) is a legal right upheld by the Supreme Court.

Taxing ammunition separately (not bullets, although I suppose one could propose a tax on any component of ammunition such as: the bullet, the cartridge case, the propellant, or the primer.) would, as a scheme to implement gun control by making ammunition unaffordable to all but the financial elite and the government, be not only unconstitutional but also unconscionable.

Really Kai? Please dig a little deeper than a Chris Rock stand-up comedy routine.

I am very disappointed that marketplace would give such an uniformed and biased individual airtime. I spent 10 min on Google and came up with the following information that undermines her whole argument completely.

For starters, there are 12 billion rounds (calling them bullets shows a lack of research effort) made in a year. One important statistic might be how many are used in crime? Best answer I can find is that there were 55k assaults and 11k murders using guns. The average number of shots fired in a criminal attack is 3.2-3.7. At 70k and 4 shots that gives 280k bullets fired in crime. This means that the other 11,999,720,000 rounds are used for legal purposes. In other words, a bullet tax would only be 0.0023% effective.

A responsible gun owner will practice a few times a year with a couple of boxes of ammo for each trip to the range. A competitive shooter might fire 1000 rounds a month. A bullet tax is the equivalent of charging golfers per stroke or batters per swing every time they practice in the logic that they might be swinging at somebody's head. (This is not as ridiculous as it sounds. More people are killed with blunt objects such as golf clubs and bats than "assault weapons") Even something as stupid as taxing gasoline to reduce dive-by shootings would be more effective than a bullet tax.

As far as background checks and regulation goes, ammunition was regulated from 1968-1986. They stopped doing it because the law was found to be completely ineffective at reducing crime (probably due to the 0.0023% thing)

Marketplace should have known better than to put such uninformed nonsense on the air with no opposing viewpoint without at least double-checking Google first.

Kai, come on man, you know this was weak. I target shoot once a week and believe me it is not cheap. My wife can attest to that. I think the mistake here is trying to have a national discussion about gun laws. New York and Wyoming are different as daylight and dark. There are not gun laws that will work well in both places. There are a lot of laws on the books that are good laws. Use those laws and leave the rest to the states.

"Pearlstein said you can really see why a bullet tax might be a good idea."
This quote really sums up what is wrong with this article. Anyone who spent 5 minutes researching this issue would know that, not only is it not a good idea, it is illegal (see: Minneapolis Star Tribune Company v. Commissioner, 460 U.S. 575 (1983)).

To pass propaganda off as journalism is irresponsible. I now have to question the truth of all reporting on Marketplace, which, up until now, has been my favorite NPR program. It is a sad day when Fox news compares favorably to Marketplace.

Mr. Ryssdal, I have been a loyal listener of your broadcast for years but this story was very disappointing because it was so slanted and biased. Not the kind of well researched and factual story I would expect from you. Don't stoop to sensationalizing a subject in this way. Your listeners deserve better.

Many millions of rounds of ammunition are purchased by our government every year. In addition, those of us law abiding citizens that enjoy shooting sports, hunting and practicing our shooting skills are not the problem. Our country has thousands of laws on our books related to gun violence, yet many of the criminals that break those laws are never prosecuted. Take the person that shot and killed the young girl from Chicago who had recently appeared with President Obama. The shooter was given probation 3 times (once for gun possession while on probation) prior to murdering this innocent girl. This person should have been in prison as a felon and repeat offender. There are thousands of cases like this. Prosecute criminals, don't infringe on the rights or suggest raising taxes of law abiding citizens.

Regulating bullets is an excellent idea. It's unconcionable that unlimited quantities of bullets can be bought by anyone in states with lax controls. As with guns bought in these states, too many end up on the streets. How many bullets does a "sportsman" need? People who actually hunt tell me they don't need a whole case of bullets every season. How often do you need to taget practice? "Responsbile gun owners" note: shooting stationary targets won't help you in hunting or in home protection. As an ex-Marine once told me, if you don't have tactical training that enables you to secure areas and defuse situations, a gun won't help you in protecting your home. No amount of shooting at bulls-eyes will compenstate for this shortfall.

Clinging to guns & religion. This American past time has to end.

This concept of "need" when applied to the rights of another is inappropriate. Who "needs" to use foul language? Who "needs" protection from the police searches if they have not committed a crime? Why does one "need" to perform any of the actions protected by the Bill of Rights? Its not that I "need" to own a firearm, it that I have the right to keep and bear arms, and so do you. The government "needs" a damn good reason to limit those rights and denying that they are necessary is not sufficient reason for curtailing any of them.

If there are facts that firearms themselves are dangerous when used responsibly, then lets talk about those facts. If there is actual proof that restricting the ability of law abiding citizens to acquire firearms is effective in reducing crime, then lets talk about that. The 2nd amendment is, at its core, a right to defend yourself from harm. We should be very skeptical of any attempts to limit it.

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