sonya harper

Illinois State Rep Sonya Harper (D-ERP), has a brilliant solution to the escalating problem of criminal violence in Chicago.

No, it isn’t keeping violent criminals in prison by curbing early release.

No, it isn’t refusing to cut deals with criminals, and allowing them to plead to lesser charges with short sentences or even parole.

No, it isn’t attempting to change the “thug life” subculture that glorifies and supports violent crime.

No, it isn’t anything that affects criminal behavior in any way, shape, or form.

Her “brilliant” idea?

Force manufacturers to put serial numbers on every round of ammunition.

No, I’m not kidding.

An Illinois state lawmaker plans to propose a bill that would require serial numbers be stamped on all ammunition sold in Illinois.

State Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, believes that serial numbers would help track bullets and help police identify those who are illegally distributing ammunition.

“We’re not trying to get rid of responsible gun owners guns, we just want to know how the guns and the bullets are getting into the hands of our youth and causing senseless harm and murder,” Harper said.

Harper was joined on Tuesday by several state lawmakers, Chicago aldermen and others in support of the proposal.


Let’s break this down to explore the full stupidity of Harper’s proposal.

Rifle and pistol ammunition is composed of four basic elements.

  • bullet
  • propellant
  • primer
  • cartridge case

Shotgun ammunition is slightly different

  • shot or a slug
  • shot cup (if needed)
  • wadding (
  • propellant
  • primer
  • hull

In most common firearms, the shot breaks when the shooter depresses the trigger. The firing pin is released to come forward, striking the primer. The primer then sets off the propellent charge in a controlled explosion that forces the bullet/slug/shot out of the cartridge case or hull, down the barrel, and out of the gun.

You can’t put a serial number on the propellant, as it burns up.

The primer is too small and the material is too soft to put a serial number on, as it is designed to impacted and deformed.

The inability of primers to consistently hold stamped impressions is why firearm microstamping is a failed technology.

david tennant

That leaves us with either the projectiles (bullet/slug/shot) or the hull-shell casing as the only possible areas to mark with a serial number.

You can’t put serial numbers on shot, as it’s simply too small in most loadings.

If you put serial numbers on bullets, there is the simple fact of physics to contend with that when bullets hit things at a high rate of speed, they often deform or shatter. In fact, fragmentation is a specific design feature in many common bullets.


Good luck getting a serial number out of the remains of the .223 Remington rifle bullet above.

Other bullets—especially the cheap FMJ (full metal jacket), SWC, (semi-wadcutter) or RNL (round nose lead) bullets so often used by criminals, will hit a human target and grossly over-penetrate, going down-range where they are either not recovered at all, or are torn up by impacting hard surfaces such as exterior building materials, concrete, or asphalt.

That leaves the cartridge case as the only possible ammunition component that can possibly be serialized.

And that’s where things will get really fun!

jackie what meme

Let’s look at the many possible ways that is a recipe for failure.

  1. Fired cartridge casings are not expended from many common firearms. This includes revolvers, and sawed-off single and double-barrel shotguns often chosen by criminals.S&W 60-10 with Hogue Bantam Grip; Ruger SP101 with the rubber factory grip that fits many female hands well but not my average-size male hands; “no-dash” S&W 640 with hand-carved Boot Grips from Craig Spegel.
    sawed off shotgun
  2. The single most common item left behind on a firing range are the cartridge cases. Most shooters do not collect their spent brass or steel shell casings.These shell cases are either periodically recovered by range staff or outside contractors, or are recovered by other shooters who reload ammunition, affectionately known as “brass rats” for their tendency to pick up recovered shell casings to reload.That means that all any criminal in Illinois would have to do to thwart the system is to pick up spent brass at a range that was left behind by a person they don’t even know, and then drop a handful of spent casings at the crime scene.pistol brass

    Chicago’s homicide detectives are already grossly overworked and don’t have enough time to clear cases where they have solid evidence. Their clearance rate is just 46-percent. The majority of Chicago’s murders already go unsolved.

    Harper’s proposed bill to serialize ammunition would result in criminals salting crime scenes with recovered range brass, sending detectives on wide goose chases and ensuring that the murder clearance rate plummets even further, all but ensuring that murderers will not be caught.

  3. Remember what I said about “brass rats?”While most shooters do not recover their brass, there is a large, substantial, and growing number of people who recover and reload the cartridges cases with new bullets, propellants, and primers. Depending on the caliber used and the quality of the brass, a shell casing can be fired reloaded numerous times. A singe shell casing can be responsible for launching a half-dozen bullets or more, and new cases coming to the market made of new materials can launch dozens of bullets before wearing out.Reloaders are not just individuals, but includes entire companies dedicated to selling “remanufactured” ammunition.

    How does Harper propose that these companies and individuals re-serialize this reloaded ammunition? Does the cartridge case get a new serial number every time it is fired?

    Harper’s dim-witted proposal will create a perfect storm of confusion for Chicago’s police, as they’ll now how to figure out if serialized cartridge cases are from the actual rounds fired at a crime scene, commercially or privately reloaded, or “salted.”

    Instead of helping, Harper’s proposed bill will result in more wasted effort and a reduced clearance rate, meaning more murderers will walk the streets as detectives chase pointless leads.

    Even when detectives trace ammunition to a particular purchaser, they still don’t have a “smoking gun.”

    All the suspect has to do is say, “I shot this box of ammunition at Joe Smith’s range six months ago and left the brass behind.” Or maybe, “I had that box of ammunition stolen out of my car.”

    Put bluntly, Harper is creating a lot more work for an over-worked police department, and still no closer to addressing the problem of Chicago’s murderous thug culture.

    But wait, there’s more!

  4. The act of firing a bullet is the process of creating and then controlling a chemical explosion in order to expel a projectile. When a part of a piece of a piece of ammunition fails, there are only a limited number of possible outcomes.Rep. Harper’s proposal to require the stamping of serial numbers on cartridge cases would weaken the walls of those cases, increasing the likelihood of case failures, which can result in cases bulging, splitting or catastrophically rupturing.

    case rupture
    In a case rupture, the desired effect of the controlled explosion pushing a bullet down the barrel of the gun is thwarted when the cartridge case fails and the explosion is directed outward into the frame of the gun itself.

    This can result into what is colloquially known as a “kaboom.”

    glock kaboom
    This spontaneous, high-speed disassembly of a firearm is a very bad thing, as the gun then essentially becomes a hand grenade. You can do a simple Internet image search for “handgun kaboom injuries” to get an appreciation for the maiming that can result from cartridge ruptures which have caused guns to fracture.

    Rep. Harper’s legislation requiring cases to to be stamped would weaken the case walls of cartridges, and dramatically increase risks to all law-abiding gun owners in Illinois.

I’m sure Sonya Harper means well… for her career.

She wants to create the illusion that she’s “doing something” to stop the violence spreading out of control in Chicago, without actually having to risk losing votes by challenging the culture of her constituents.

In the end, she’s not serious about reducing violence, just creating a public image.

Unfortunately, the path she’s chosen can only make the job of Chicago’s overworked homicide detectives more taxing, reduce the number of homicide cases being closed, increase the possibility of law-abiding citizens being framed for a crime they didn’t commit, and increase the likelihood of case failures and serious injuries to law-abiding citizens.

This is unacceptable, and like all dangerously stupid ideas, must be nipped in the bud.