CALIFORNIA TAKES THE NEXT STEP TOWARD THE NEXT STEP IN BALLISTICS TECHNOLOGY
SACRAMENTO - Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) Executive Director Josh Horwitz today hailed a key legislative panel's vote in favor of a bill that would require gun makers to incorporate "microstamped" identification information in new semiautomatic pistols sold in California as "a major step forward for a technology that has enormous potential to help police solve gun crimes."
Horwitz said he is optimistic that the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, will be able to use Tuesday's 5-2 vote in the California Assembly's Public Safety Committee to generate momentum to get the proposal signed into law. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has endorsed the bill, noting its crime-solving benefits.
"It's still early in the process, but I think we have an excellent chance of building on this vote," Horwitz said. "Microstamping can help police track down criminals involved in gun violence even if no gun is ever recovered, because it puts the serial number of the firearm on every shell casing. This would allow police to trace the gun from nothing more than a spent cartridge, and I think politicians from both parties will conclude that this is an important tool for law enforcement."
When law enforcement investigate a shooting, a recovered gun is sometimes the most direct link between the crime scene and the perpetrator. Tracing systems maintained by both California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) can provide law enforcement with important leads including the first purchase of the firearm.
In many gun crime investigations, however, police do not recover the firearm that was used in the shooting, but they find cartridge casings or projectiles. In these situations, police cannot initiate a gun trace because they do not know the make, model and serial number of the gun.
The ATF helps investigators overcome this problem by maintaining a database of electronic images from shell casings and projectiles recovered at crime scenes. This database, known as the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), includes more than 800,000 electronic images. A cartridge case recovered at a crime scene can be imaged and then compared in NIBIN. An ATF study reported that "numerous violent crimes involving firearms have been solved through use of the system, many of which would not have been solved without it."
Horwitz noted, however, that NIBIN only includes images from shell casings found at crime scenes and is limited to what happens to be in the database. "With NIBIN, a single cartridge standing alone will yield no clues," he said.
Horwitz said microstamping uses tiny etchings on the firing pin to place the make, model, and serial number on every cartridge fired from a gun that incorporates the technology. "A single recovered cartridge with a microstamp will lead investigators directly to the gun that it was used in with no new database and no need to create a digital image of the cartridge," he said. "Together with California's DROS system, which requires documentation and background checks for all gun sales in the state, microstamping would allow any gun sold in California to be traced to its owner from a spent shell casing, even if the gun is not recovered and has not been used in another crime. This would be a powerful tool for investigating violent crimes committed with guns."
Horwitz said microstamping also offers technical advantages over existing ballistics identification systems. "NIBIN and similar state ballistics databases depend upon the transfer of random markings from the interior of a gun to the bullets and shell casings it fires," he said. "Microstamping eliminates the need to compare these subtle markings - which are the product of unintentional variations in the manufacturing process - by etching specific identifying information onto the gun that is then transferred to the cartridge when it is fired."
Horwitz said studies have shown that microstamped etchings have proven to be remarkably resistant to wear and tear, leaving clear identifiable markings even after thousands of uses. Moreover, he said, redundant marking etched into the firing pin make the technology extremely difficult to defeat, and the serial number from a microstamped cartridge can be identified through an inexpensive reader at the crime scene, giving investigators instantaneous access to important leads.
|The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence was founded in 1975 and is composed of 45 civic, professional and religious organizations and 100,000 individual members working to reduce gun violence. Our mission is to stop gun violence by fostering effective community and national action. For more information about the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, visit www.csgv.org.|
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