Firearm microstamping

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Firearm microstamping, ballistic imprinting, and ballistic engraving is a technology that has the goal of aiding in ballistics identification. It involves the use of laser technology to engrave a microscopic marking onto the tip of the firing pin and onto the breech face of a firearm. When the firearm is fired, these etchings are transferred to the primer by the firing pin and to the cartridge case head by the breech face, using the pressure created when a round is fired. After being fired, if the cases are recovered by police, the microscopic markings imprinted on the cartridges can then be examined by forensic ballistics experts with a goal of obtaining information to trace the firearm to the last registered owner.[1]

Legal jurisdictions in the United States[edit]

California[edit]

Microstamping legislation was passed in California AB 1471 and signed into law on October 14, 2007, but specifically exempts law enforcement.[2] The law has generated controversy.[3][4]

This technology was to be required in California starting in 2010, however, it is on hold and law enforcement is specifically exempt.[2] On May 17, 2013, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that micro-stamping had cleared all technological and patenting hurdles and would be required on newly sold semiautomatics, effective immediately. However, handguns already approved for sale but lacking this technology may still be sold as long as they remain on the Roster of Safe Handguns.[5]

In January 2014, the two largest handgun manufacturers in the U.S., Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., announced their intent to stop selling new semi-automatic handguns in California. They cited the microstamping law as their reason.[6]

As a result of the firearm microstamping law in California, gun manufacturers such as Sturm, Ruger & Co., as well as Smith & Wesson, have chosen simply to stop selling guns in California, rather than comply with the requirements of the law.[7]

The National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute have filed a lawsuit seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief against what the groups perceive as an attempt to ban semi-automatic handguns in the state.[6]

The issue of liability for the gun owner if the firing pin is replaced or experiences normal wear with use, or if the chamber marking is removed, may constitute violating federal and/or state statutes that impose strict penalties for defacing the serial numbers of firearms. However, in an amendment proposed to the bill passed in California AB 1471, this issue is addressed, at least at the state level:

"The microscopic array of characters required by this section shall not be considered the name of the maker, model, manufacturer's number, or other mark of identification, including any distinguishing number or mark assigned by the Department of Justice[of California], within the meaning of Sections 12090 and 12094."[8][9]

The microstamping is therefore not considered the serial number under California law, for the intents and purposes of the California penal code. It is still unclear if such penalties may be prosecuted at the federal level, as there is no firm definition of a "manufacturer's serial number."[10]

Other jurisdictions[edit]

Similar legislation is under consideration in New York,[11] Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Federal bill H.R.5266, the National Crime Gun Identification Act of 2008, was written by House Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA).[12] Senator Edward Kennedy (MA) introduced an identical companion bill in the Senate.[13]

Effectiveness[edit]

Since the technology is unproven under large scale implementation, there are no reliable statistics to substantiate how useful the process might really be to law enforcement or that it would in any way hurt these same efforts.

Proponents say:

  • Microstamping enables law enforcement to match fired cartridge cases from a crime scene to the last registered owner of the firearm.
  • Microstamping would allow law enforcement to track illegal trade in guns.
  • Low cost of implementation; the technology owner claims as low as US$0.50 per firearm or as high as US $8.50, depending on the volume of the manufacturer.
  • High reliability; the "nearly as hard as a diamond" firing pin provides long service life.

Opponents say:

  • Stamped casing can only be traced to the last registered owner, not to the person who used the gun when the casings were stamped. In the case of a stolen gun, as is the case for most firearms used in crime,[14] the microstamped primer would not lead to the criminal.
  • Unscrupulous individuals could collect discarded brass from a firing range and salt crime scenes with microstamped cases, thereby providing false evidence against innocent people and increasing the workload for investigators.[15]
  • High costs for testing the efficacy of the technique must be passed on to customers, increasing the cost of firearms for those who obtain them legally.[15]
  • Microstamping is easily defeated.
    • Diamond coated files are inexpensive and will remove microstamping. One forensic expert performed the task with sandpaper and eliminated the microstamp edges in 30 seconds.
    • Firing pins are normally replaceable and can be changed with simple tools or without tools.
    • Firing a large number of rounds will wear down the microstamp.[15]
    • Marked components such as slides, barrels, firing pins and ejectors are all easily and commonly replaced items.[16]
  • Microstamping is an immature, sole source technology, and has not been subjected to sufficient independent testing. Transfer of microstamped marks to the cases is less reliable than proponents claim.[15]
  • Microstamping would be irrelevant/non-applicable for revolvers as these types of weapons do not automatically eject shell cases.
  • Ejected casings can be easily collected and removed from a crime scene.
  • Information from the Justice Department shows only about 10% of violent crimes are committed with firearms. Of those, 98% are unregistered.[citation needed]
  • The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates the cost of implementation to be passed on to the consumer to be much higher than the proponents of the law; around $200 USD per firearm.

Specific to California, opponents say:

  • Firearms sold to law-enforcement are exempt. Problems could arise if a police officer's firearm is used in a crime or stolen, and the fact that a firearm is "unsafe" if not provided with stamping technology exposes the police to liability.[17]
  • Guns manufactured before an effective date are exempt and the bill does not extend to guns outside of California. There's no possibility that this bill would ever cover enough guns to provide the investigative advantage claimed for it by the proponents.[15]

Manufacturer[edit]

The proprietary technology was invented and patented by Todd Lizotte and is presently owned by a company he founded called NanoMark, a division of TD Dynamics of Seattle, Washington.[18] They are the only company from which this technology can be purchased.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Cracking the Case: The Crime Solving Promise of Ballistics Identification." Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence Report on Microstamping, 2004. Report
  2. ^ a b Cal. P.C. § 12125(b)(4)
  3. ^ "Smith & Wesson says it won't follow California 'microstamping' law". Retrieved 24 January 2014. Gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson refused Thursday to comply with California's controversial "microstamping" law, causing more of its products to fall off the state's permissible firearms list and be ineligible for sale. 
  4. ^ Page, Douglas. "Microstamping Calls the Shot: A Revolutionary Gun Identification Technology Finds Favor and Foes". National Crime Justice Reference Service. Retrieved 21 September 2010. 
  5. ^ http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Gun-control-Cartridge-ID-law-to-take-effect-4527165.php
  6. ^ a b Staff (April 2014). "ILA report: California's Most Ambitious Handgun Ban Now Underway". American Rifleman 162 (4): 96. 
  7. ^ "Smith & Wesson says it won't follow California 'microstamping' law". Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  8. ^ California Assembly (AB 1471)
  9. ^ Sections 12090 and 12094 of the California Penal Code CA Penal Code
  10. ^ US Title 18 Chapter 44 Section 921 and 922(k) US Penal Code
  11. ^ Albany Times Union
  12. ^ http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.5266.IH:
  13. ^ http://becerra.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=275&Itemid=47
  14. ^ Jefferey A. Roth. "Firearms and Violence". ncjrs.gov. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c d e SAAMI. "AB 352 Defines As "Unsafe" Any Semi-Automatic Pistol Not Microstamped". Archived from the original on 2007-07-06. Retrieved 2007-11-26. 
  16. ^ See accurizing
  17. ^ Mike Feuer. "City of Oakland Bill Analysis". Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  18. ^ Page, Douglas (January 1, 2008). "Microstamping calls the shots: a revolutionary gun identification technology finds favor and foes.". Law Enforcement Technology  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 22 May 2014. 

Additional resources[edit]