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April 1st, 2009

California Imposes Strict New Regulations on Airguns

Air Rifles CaliforniaAir rifles and air pistols are not considered “firearms” under federal law. Therefore, in all 50 states, air rifles and air pistols can be purchased “over the counter”, without background checks. The lack of controls on pneumatic guns has long troubled many California lawmakers who have “taken aim” at the airgun industry with tough new legislation. This year, California extends its sweeping gun-control policies to air rifles and pistols under the terms of new legislation, AB 1984, recently codified into law. Under this bill, air rifle and pistol owners will be required to pay an “Air Excise Tax” on all canister refills and CO2 propellants. In addition, all refills must be done by state-licensed air refill centers operated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). In order to qualify for refills (and purchase propellant cartridges), air rifle and pistol owners must first obtain a state-endorsed “Air User Certificate”, which will cost $95.00, renewable annually. These new regulations take effect June 1, 2009.

Air Compressor California

New Law Carries Stiff Penalties, Yet Fear of Air “Black Market” Persists
Recognizing that air is an abundant and otherwise free resource, the new law contains tough provisions to prevent air rifle and pistol owners from filling their air canisters from non-approved sources. Any air rifle/pistol owner caught refilling canisters from a private pump or compressor will be subject to a $10,000 fine for the first offense, with criminal penalties (up to 5 years in prison) for repeat offenders. This may, initially, cause some practical problems. Currently, CARB has no certified filling stations for airguns, and given California’s current budgetary crisis, it may be many months before the first filling stations come on-line. In the mean-time, using $8.3 million in Federal Stimulus funding, CARB will hire 65 “Air Security & Surveillance Officers” (ASSOs) to find scoff-laws who continue to fill their airguns with unregistered air. Some observers worry that one unfortunate side-effect of AB 1984 could be the creation of a criminalized “black market” for air in the Golden State.

Air Compressor CaliforniaDemocratic legislators praised the new regulations. An official statement by the Assembly Democratic Caucus declared: “This is a great day for all Californians. Air rifles can be just as dangerous as powder-fired weapons. These air rifles are silent killers and even when used for target sports they can put your eye out.” California Governor Schwarzenegger did not issue a formal statement about the new Air Excise Tax. However an aide to the Governor, who declined to be named, remarked: “Look, this state is $40 billion in the red. Any new revenue source is welcome.” Off the record, he added: “We tax gasoline, we tax real estate, we tax health care, we tax income, we tax all the products you buy in stores, and we even tax you when you die. Why not tax air? It’s brilliant. Heck, if we could tax sunshine, we would”.

The California State Employees Union also expressed support for the new legislation, noting that it would create up to 200 new, permanent high-paying jobs. Sacramento has an abundance of workers skilled in the dispensing of hot air, so CARB believes it can quickly fill the new positions mandated by AB 1984. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (CLAO), tasked with estimating the costs of new legislation, has predicted that Air Excise Tax revenues should “more than cover the hardware costs of air filling stations.” However, the CLAO cautioned that “attendant administrative and enforcement costs, including salaries, entitlements, and mandatory pensions, could run into the tens of millions of dollars annually.” Asked to comment on those projected costs, AB 1984’s author, Assemblywoman Juanita Wilson (D. Berkeley), observed: “Let’s worry about that later. This is about Hope and about Change…we’re doing this for the children. Plus California needs jobs, and my ground-breaking legislation will put hundreds of Californians back to work.”

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April 1st, 2009

U.S. Army Team Tests Radical New Dimpled Bullet

Aberdeen Proving Ground

At the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, a team of ballistics technicians, supported by some of the U.S. Army’s top sniper instructors, has been quietly developing a radical new “dimpled” bullet. The exterior of the bullet resembles the dimpled surface of a golf ball. The function of the special dimpled skin is to reduce projectile drag, providing a flatter long-range trajectory, and greater retained energy at the target.

.338 Projectile with MIM Exo-Jacket
(3D-CAD Artist’s Rendering)
army bullet

In their pursuit of a lower-drag bullet, the Army tried a variety of designs, including bullets with circumferential drive bands, dual-radius ogives, and rebated boat-tails. The dimpled “golf-ball” design was considered a “long shot” according to the design team, but it has performed beyond all expectations. The nominal drag coefficient (Cd) has improved by about +.040, while cartridge muzzle velocity has increased by nearly 80+ fps because the bullet’s dimpled skin reduces in-barrel friction. What’s more — the terminal performance of the dimpled bullet has been “spectacular”. The Aberdeen team set out to produce a slightly more slippery bullet for U.S. Army snipers. What they ended up with is a bullet with dramatically enhanced long-range ballistics and superior killing power on “soft targets”.

army bulletLt. Col. Ben Eldrick, Long-Range Projectile Project (LRPP) team leader, told how the radical bullet was conceived: “During our initial design work, we wanted the benefits of a high-BC, pointed bullet, but in a design that could be mass-produced and could work as a tracer. We consulted some of the top civilian bullet experts, including ballistician Bryan Litz of Berger Bullets. Mr. Litz really got the ball rolling. He suggested that the ‘next big step’ in bullet design would involve the turbulent boundary layer over the body of the bullet. Litz told us that ‘pointing bullet tips will take you only so far… think about optimizing the airflow over the entire bullet’. That made a lot of sense to us. When you design a race car to be aerodynamic, you sculpt the whole body, not just the front bumper.”

Lt. Col. Eldrick continued: “It turns out Litz was right on the money. By employing a golf-ball type dimpled surface, we were able to optimize the turbulent boundary layer on the bullet body. This reduced the low-pressure wake zone behind the bullet significantly, resulting in reduced base drag. As a result the bullet experiences much less overall drag, effectively raising the BC.” The Army team had discovered that what works for golf balls also works for bullets.

army bulletAfter testing a series of prototypes, the Aberdeen bullet design team settled on a copper-jacketed bullet with dimples about 0.5 mm in diameter. The first-generation bullets were formed in special binary impact swages that press-form the dimples after the bullets were pointed up in conventional dies. Future production bullets will be made with an advanced metal-injection-molding (MIM) process that forms the dimples directly into the surface of the bullets. Rather than simply wrap the core material (which is classified), the MIM is molecularly bonded to the core. The Aberdeen LRPP team calls this “Exo-Jacket” construction, as in “Exo-Skeleton”.

Higher Velocities Achieved
There was a surprise benefit of the dimpled bullet design — higher muzzle velocities. Given the same powder charge, dimpled bullets exit the muzzle faster because they produce less in-barrel friction than do conventional bullets. This is because the recessed dimples effectively reduce the metal-on-metal bearing surface. Lt. Col. Eldrick revealed: “the added velocity was an unexpected bonus. With equal-pressure loads, dimpled .308 bullets will fly about 80 fps faster than normal .308 bullets. With the large .338-caliber projectiles, the difference is even greater… we can pick up nearly 150 fps.” Given the observed velocity gains achieved with dimpled bullets, Aberdeen designers are now working on dimpled shell casings for larger artillery projectiles.

Dimpled Jacket Delivers ‘Explosive’ Fragmentation
While the internal design and core materials of the new dimpled bullet remain classified, the design team revealed that the terminal performance of the new bullet has been “spectacular”. The bullet penetrates like a FMJ but then explosively fragments, resulting in a devastating energy release in the target. According to Capt. Jack Sarazen, an Aberdeen engineer, “the enhanced terminal performance of the dimpled bullet was unanticipated. This was a serendipitous effect of the slight thinning of the jacket material where the dimples are pressed.” Sarazen explained: “Most FMJ bullets break along the cannelure and then fragment into two or three large pieces. With the dimpled bullets, you have multiple fragmentation points so the bullet literally blows up like a grenade in the target.”

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April 1st, 2009

Commodity Exchanges Commence Primers Trading

Major commodities exchanges announced that they would commence trading of cartridge primers and primer futures contracts, starting on April 2, 2009. This marks the first time that an ammunition component will be exchange-traded, alongside oil, gas, precious metals, and agricultural products. Federal, CCI, Remington, and Wolf primers will be listed on the NYMEX (N.Y. Mercantile Exchange), CME Group (Chicago Mercantile Exchange), and the USFE (U.S. Futures Exchange).

“Primers may be the pork-bellies of the future.” — V. DeMarco, Commodity Trader

primer Federal pricesThe price of primers has skyrocketed in recent months, with Federal 205M primers rising from the mid-20 dollar mark to $60.00 per box (see chart). Price hikes have been driven by increased demand as Americans salt away large caches of primers in fear of future shortages. The demand for primers (half of American households have guns), combined with the volatility of bulk primer prices, convinced commodity exchange managers that it was time to start trading primers and primer futures. Vince DeMarco, a trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exhange, explained: “Primers may be the pork-bellies of the future. Demand is at an all-time high. With the ability to buy and sell primer futures, now investors can make money on price movements.” Leslie Woods, an analyst for Forbes magazine, noted that “We are seeing significant hoarding. People are buying primers by the hundreds of thousands, yet many purchasers have no intention of ever using all those primers. Many of the buyers are not even active shooters. They are clearly acquiring large stocks of primers for speculative purposes. Now, with primers being traded as commodities, these investors can maintain their stake in the primer market without actually holding physical inventory.”

Marcus Singleton, a V.P. with the N.Y. Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) explained: “We should have done this (trade primers as commodities) years ago. More Americans buy primers than will ever buy gold or silver bullion. Primers are consummable, which means that there will always be a lag between supply and demand, which is what moves markets. And a moving market, whichever way it goes, makes money for the exchanges.” Singleton also noted: “Let’s face it, people don’t really want to have half a million primers stashed under their bed. That’s a potential fire hazard. And due to Haz Mat charges, large quantities of primers are very expensive to ship. For the small investor, concerned about rising primer prices, it’s much better to purchase primer futures contracts. That way he gets price protection in the long run and he doesn’t actually have to store anything.”

primer Federal prices

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