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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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