For Release: Tuesday, July 6, 1993
New firearms ammunition technology soon to be imported to the United States could devastate police investigations according to the new Violence Policy Center study Phantom Ammo: The Advent of Caseless Ammunition.
Spent shell casings are a key law enforcement tool in criminal investigations and court proceedings. Information stamped on the casing as well as unique markings left when a gun is fired can aid police in identifying the type of firearm used. Such markings can also be used to link a specific firearm to various crimes. [A recent notable example is the case of Mir-Aimal Kansi, who allegedly shot and killed two people outside of the Virginia headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in January 1993 with an AK-47 type semi-automatic assault rifle. The gun’s shell casing was the vital piece of evidence that led police to the alleged shooter.] This key tool may soon be lost to police as the result of a technological innovation in firearms and ammunition design: caseless ammo.
Voere of Austria reportedly will soon begin exporting to the United States the VEC-91 (Voere Electronic Caseless) rifle using the Usel Caseless Cartridge (UCC). Unlike standard ammunition, caseless ammo lacks a metal shell casing. The UCC leaves no tell-tale casing and consists of a projectile, a solid propellant that functions as the cartridge body, and a primer. Unlike standard firearms, the Voere rifle uses an electrical charge to fire the ammunition. (A previously developed and as yet unmarketed prototype caseless rifle–the Heckler & Koch G-11–uses a standard firing mechanism). Although initial costs of the new technology are reportedly high–$2,200 for the rifle and two dollars per round for the ammunition–it is predicted that increased demand would bring caseless ammo’s price in line with, or lower than, standard ammunition. The rifle and ammunition were on display at the manufacturers show that accompanied the National Rifle Association’s April 1993 annual meeting in Nashville, TN.
Some, such as Andy Molchan, president of the National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers, have little doubt as to the commercial potential of caseless ammo. Writing in the February 1993 issue of American Firearms Industry Molchan asked:
Why is this new rifle significant? Because it is different. The fundamental problem with the long gun market is that most of the models are 60 to 90 years old. Without new models that have major technical changes, you eventually exhaust your market. You get to the point where 90% of the people who might want one have one already. Frankly, I think…[the rifle’s manufacturers]…played it too safe. They put the caseless system into what looks exactly like a very fine classic European rifle. I think if they had done…[it]…with high tech everything, they could have really stormed the long gun market….In my opinion, with the addition of a high tech design, it could do for the long gun market what [the] Glock [17 handgun, the first handgun to use large amounts of plastic in its structural design] did for the handgun market.
In addition to its effect on individual police department investigations, caseless technology could also be devastating to such programs as the FBI’s nascent “Drugfire” computer database which attempts to link seemingly unrelated shootings in a specific region using firearms ballistics evidence from local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities. A June 28, 1993 Washington Post article noted that the “revolutionary” new program–which cost one million dollars to develop for the Baltimore-Washington corridor–“turns on the specific markings, unique to each weapon, that are left on bullets and casings after a gun is fired.”
Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh Sugarmann states, “The same industry that has given us armor-piercing `cop-killer’ bullets, plastic handguns, and assault weapons has now added caseless `phantom’ ammo to its litany of assaults on public safety. This is just the latest example of the failure of a system that allows a virtually unregulated industry to develop and market hazardous products without the pre-market scrutiny afforded almost all other products in America.”
The study recommends that:
- Congress immediately direct the federal Office of Technology Assessment to study caseless ammunition and its possible effect on criminal investigations;
- the appropriate congressional committees conduct hearings to examine the problems that caseless ammo may present;
- the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) request of Voere that it indefinitely postpone export of its rifle and ammunition to the United States until the possible public safety risks posed by the new technology are determined;
- Congress give ATF statutory authority to regulate the availability, manufacture, distribution, and sale of fireams technology that poses a possible threat to public safety.