The Latest Crime-Solving Technique the Gun Lobby Doesn’t Like

Marking bullets with tiny codes could fight crime, but there's a battle raging over using such technology

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Reed Saxon / AP

A bullet casing showing identification codes, at center, is shown through a microscope at a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Academy

It sounds like something from a futuristic thriller: police pick up spent bullet shells, find a tiny code on them that reveals what gun they were shot from and then use the ID to track down the killer. The technology to do this, called microstamping, is actually available today, but what’s stopping it from being used — and many criminals from being caught — is politics.

There are battles raging across the U.S. over microstamping, with supporters of the new technology squaring off against the gun lobby, which is strongly opposed. It is hard to see why the critics are so upset — and why they put so little value on microstamping’s potential to help fight crime.

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Gun violence in the U.S. is an epidemic. American gun-ownership rates are the highest in the world, with a remarkable 88 guns per 100 people. America also ranks No. 1 out of the top 26 high- and middle-income countries in gun mortality. In an average year, almost 100,000 people in the U.S. are shot or killed with a gun.

When police investigate gun crimes, they are often stymied by a lack of evidence. Guns are involved in the vast majority of murders, and according to the FBI, nearly 40% of all killings go unsolved because of lack of evidence. In many shootings, bullet casings are the only tangible evidence police have.

This is where microstamping comes in. If it were required, every gun would need to have a microscopic code stamped on the tip of its firing pin. When a bullet leaves the gun, its shell casing would be stamped with the code, which could be retrieved from the casings found at crime scenes. The code could lead the police to the person who fired the gun — or at least to its original purchaser.

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When the gun lobby fights gun-control legislation, its logic is clear: it does not like laws that prevent people from owning or using guns. But microstamping does neither. These codes just make people who fire guns accountable for where their bullets end up. Gun owners who use their guns lawfully shouldn’t be concerned.

Critics of microstamping have put forth an array of weak objections. They argue it’s too expensive. But the cost has been estimated at between 50¢ and $6 a gun — hardly a budget breaker. They also argue that the technology is not reliable. But a new study funded by the Department of Justice has found that when two shell casings are recovered, the code can be read 90% to 99% of the time.

The opposition to microstamping is the sort of knee-jerk reaction that gun-rights activists generally have to any law that affects gun use in any way — no matter how reasonable or beneficial. It’s the same reasoning that has led the gun lobby to oppose banning assault weapons and so-called cop-killer bullets.

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Despite the weakness of their case, the opponents of microstamping have been winning so far. Only one state — California — has enacted a law that requires microstamping, and since it was signed in 2007, it has been blocked by fights over patents. New York’s legislature is considering a microstamping bill as well, but it isn’t clear if it will gain any traction. One political blog reported that the National Rifle Association (NRA) had been “flooding Albany with cash” — a major obstacle to getting the bill through. Bills in at least four other states have also stalled.

The gun lobby has been on a roll. In recent years, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment in a pro-gun way and used it to strike down municipal gun-control laws. Members of Congress are so afraid of the NRA that strong federal gun control has been a dead letter for years. Having done so well on the issues that really affect hunters and other lawful gun owners, the gun lobby should lighten up on the ones that do not — like microstamping — and show the nation that gun owners care not only about their own rights but also about the rights of innocent victims of gun violence.

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19 comments
B_NG
B_NG

So cost will be for laser etching on at least a sub millimeter scale (Labor/energy/precision equipment) and then also for creating another database for every ~$10-30 firing pin that can be easily replaced/machined. Then there was talk about marking the casing besides the primer. 
Look at how it is now... California's approved list that the manufacturers need to pay money to stay on? who do you think eats that cost? it sure wont be the manufacturer.
Where did you get the 50 Cents to $6 per gun statistic? Would you be willing to take that to the bank?

Also if this solution is so cheap and great, why did they exempt law enforcement from this requirement?

You say it is a knee jerk reaction to any proposed law? Sure it is for a few but mostly it stems from the crazy number of horrendous gun control proposals, which when you really understand what you are talking about, always turn out to be more cumbersome than effective.

Look at the 10 round magazine requirement... its still pretty damn easy to get a 30? Look at the stupidity that resulted in the bullet button. What effect do you think any of these laws have had? Just walk over to a local range and you will see no one pays any attention to them and most cops don't enforce them. 

It is just like the banning of "assault weapons" and "cop killer bullets". if you believe in the 2nd amendment, then when does this stop? homicides will always exist and yes even through firearms.
Also without checking your sources in reference to your gun deaths statistic... what all does that include? is it all from the "epidemic" of gun violence or violent crime? or does it include things like suicide or accidents? claiming an epidemic in gun violence then posting a statistic that covers more than just your category is very misleading.

Anyways if you see a problem, in order to come up with an effective solution, what do you do? You understand the problem. the overwhelming number of gun control enthusiasts skip this step and assume they know what they are talking about.

What is to stop me from taking a ROCK or any of the numerous things that are harder than steel or aluminum and passing it once or twice over the firing pin? or even machining one myself or purchasing one from somewhere else?

Then everytime I go to the range, my brass is tagged? The overwhelming majority of people don't pick up their brass from a shooting range. What is to stop some criminal from grabbing a few and planting it at a crime scene?

UltraNerdyHackerGuy
UltraNerdyHackerGuy

  The reason we don't like "Micro-Printing" is because the technology is infantile in nature.  A person could simply rub the firing pin against the wall and "Erase" the micro-printing...  I've LITERALLY overcome all of these so called forensic counter measures to crime in about 13 seconds!!!  Also...  The act of firing or cleaning the gun removes ALL of the so called forensic countermeasures. 


P.S.  The real reason for this ungodly expensive law (witch makes guns about %437.06 more expensive and ammo about %80 more expensive) is to ban auto-loading guns (also called semi-auto) by making them to expensive for the "common Wealth" to own them.  This is all because some misinformed people believed that nearly all guns are "assault-weapons"!  Under this micro-printing law...  The cheapest gun you can have would be at LEAST $2,000!  The logic behind this is based upon the belief that people would simply stop buying guns (or selling them)...  And they would...  But the criminals would still get them off the streets for $100.00 bucks or less...  THEY'D be armed while you'd be scared off by the 21-hundred dollar price tag or the felony conviction for having a newly manufactured gun that doesn't feature micro-printing.  Here's a question...  What if you take the thing to the range like i did, only to find that the micro-printing on my test gun had been completely warn away in 1 (One) magazine!!!  Do i get a felony?!  Am i an honorary felon for not doing ANYTHING wrong!  Because at that point...  I was in possession of an illegal assault-weapon for not having micro-printing!


P.P.S.  Banning semi-auto (auto-feeding/loading) guns is tantamount to banning ALL guns...  The qualifier "Semi-Auto" makes reference to a fire-arm that fires one (1) round per pull of the trigger.  The only difference between a glock and a revolver is that a portion of the gun powder is used to load the next round...  NOT a spring like in a revolver.  They are FUNCTIONALLY IDENTICAL except for a the amount of ammo each type of gun can carry.  What gun doesn't have the ability to fire once per pull of the trigger?


P.P.P.S.  The only reason people can tell us gun-nuts to "Do as i say or else!" is because we are, for the most part good people.  If we weren't...  You'd all have no way of MAKING us obey your verifiable illogical laws.  It's a good idea not to push that to far though...  I'm just sayin'.

rgschreib
rgschreib

Besides Microstamping, we also have an unused option called 'UPC Bullet Tagging'. That is, it is now technically possible to microstamp or micro-laser etch UPCs (Universal Product Codes) on all bullet shells. UPCs are the bar codes on all of the products you buy in the store that get laser scanned by the clerk to ring up your bill. By having everyone purchase all their bullets with any major credit card, or a special 'Bullet Card' dupped from your driver's license if you prefer buying with cash, then, in the event of the bullets being fired in a gun crime, the police or CSI people can retrieve the expelled bullet cartridges or shells, scan the tiny UPC on them under magnification, and use long established software to immediately trace them back to whoever purchased them in the first place. This is long established technology, OLD stuff, but the same arguements against Microstamping, keep this CSI option to fight gun crime from being implemented.

12rmp123
12rmp123

Let's write about how the gun lobby feels about something, and as illogical as their point of view may seem to us, let's not contact any of them for details on their claims.

TimothyAdams
TimothyAdams

"In recent years, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment in a pro-gun way..." That's 

because
the
Second
Amendment
is
pro-gun!




EaglesPain
EaglesPain

Skipping completely the pro/con of gun control, just based on the practical, simple engineering aspects of micro-stamping firing pins...this is an absurd half measure. It only takes minutes to change out a weapon's firing pin...and only a little more time and effort to create or procure a replacement.

tinklebrook
tinklebrook

What drivel.  "Gun violence in the U.S. is an epidemic." ?!?    Word choices matter, I have even seen it referred to as a "plague"

In 2010 there were 358 deaths involving rifles, the rest were handguns. Just over half of all gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides, with 17,352 (55.6%) of the total 31,224 firearm-related deaths in 2007 being suicide deaths, and 12,632 (40.5%) were homicide deaths

In a country with a population of 350 million people, with a ratio of more than 1 gun per adult we have 12,632 gun related homicides of which 75% are criminal on criminal violence and you call that an epidemic?  

Even if you count the criminal on criminal gun violence you have a .00003609 % chance of being a victim of gun violence. If you are not involved in the drug trade, your chances plummet even lower.

What drivel.

MikeRohan
MikeRohan

If a person is going to shoot someone, and they are a criminal, what’s to stop them from committing the crime of just filing off the microstamp? I dont think they would care about being caught with a firearm with a filed off microstamp if they just KILLED someone

cryptzog
cryptzog

@MikeRohan This sounds like a perfect way for a criminal to frame someone else.

mycomment42
mycomment42

"Gun owners who use their guns lawfully shouldn’t be concerned."  This is the same argument that supports "stop and frisk" laws, and the Patriot Act.  If you aren't a criminal, why should you be concerned? 

JasonSmith
JasonSmith

JCVillar What would microstamping have to do with self defense? If you legally shoot someone in self defense, it makes no difference if your gun is microstamped or not. So why not require them for all the other (and completely more numerous) occasions of non-self defense cases?

JCVillar
JCVillar

The US ranks 12th worldwide in gun mortality rates.  This playing with statistics is enough to impeach the credibility of the entire article.  Given that criminal use of guns is executed with stolen guns, the microstamp serves only to identify those used in self defense.  I read a lot of gun control articles like these and thaey always have one thing in common:  they never even attempt to assemble statistics on the self-defense use of firearms.

cryptzog
cryptzog

@JCVillar Exactly.  If a policeman shoots and kills a criminal, it is still considered a death caused by a firearm.