Just How Practical is Microstamping?

I previously looked at the legal problems with New York’s proposed microstamping bill, but I imagine there are those out there who will say “Yes, yes, but those problems can be ironed out; the important thing is to get microstamping guns out there so we can start catching murderers!” That brings up the question of just how many murderers we can expect to catch once the law is implemented . . .

According to Chief Kilfoil, President of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police:

Microstamping is a proven technology that will revolutionize gun crime investigations and help put criminal perpetrators behind bars. A microstamp is a unique code that is imprinted directly onto the shell casing when the gun is fired. Like a vehicle identification number of a car, a microstamp provides law enforcement officers with a more accurate method to identify the owner of a crime gun. Even if police find only one shell casing, they have a 54 percent chance of being able to read the microstamp. If they find more casings, the odds of a match are even better.

Let’s break that statement down, shall we? Starting with: Microstamping is a proven technology. That is certainly not true. Two studies of microstamping were performed by UC Davis; one in 2006 and another in 2008. The 2006 study concluded:

At the current time it is not recommended that a mandate for implementation of this technology in all semiautomatic handguns in the state of California be made. Further testing, analysis and evaluation is required.

The 2008 study was slightly more optimistic, saying that it was feasible but variable. Of more interest, though was the following:

Tests … showed a wide range of results depending on the weapon, the ammunition used and the type of code examined, Beddow found. Generally, the letter/number codes on the face of the firing pin and the gear codes transferred well to cartridge cases …

The researchers did not have access to patented information allowing them to read the bar- or gear-codes, and so could not determine if these remained legible enough to be useful.

Codes engraved on the face of the firing pin could easily be removed with household tools, Beddow found.

In a study performed by the National Academies under the auspices of the US DoJ it was found that:

more in-depth studies are needed on the durability of microstamped marks under various firing conditions and their susceptibility to tampering, as well as on their cost impact for manufacturers and consumers.

From the Winter 2006 issue of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (ATFE) Journal we hear from George G. Krivosta of the  Suffolk County Crime Laboratory in Hauppauge, New York that:

The layman might also take as gospel that if you could find a way to place a number onto the tip of a firing pin, then you could certainly read it in the impression. Not until this research was performed and many test fires examined from a firing pin that had a known recognizable pattern, did it become apparent how much change could take place, and why matching firing pin impressions can be so challenging. … Certainly this research has shown that implementing this technology will be much more complicated than burning a serial number on a few parts and dropping them into firearms being manufactured. [emphasis added]

Mr. Krivosta’s article also points out that about two minutes with a sharpening stone would completely obliterate the microstamp markings on the firing pin without impairing the weapon’s operation at all.

Let’s look at the second part of Chief Kilfoil’s first sentence:

technology that will revolutionize gun crime investigations and help put criminal perpetrators behind bars.

Not to be rude, chief, but isn’t that what you and your ilk said about your “ballistic fingerprinting” database? You remember CoBIS don’t you? The 10 1/2 year old program that has cost New York taxpayers almost $50 million and resulted in exactly 2 hits? Unfortunately because it took so long to get information entered, the statute of limitations had expired before you got your first hit. As for the second hit, when your officers went to the owner’s home and asked about the gun, he told them where he kept it. When they came back saying it wasn’t there he told them “It must have been stolen. I want to report a stolen gun.”

In fact, according to this article from the March 15, 2000 issue of Albany NY’s Daily Gazette Gov. Pataki stated:

At the crime scene people don’t leave the gun very often but they do leave bullets or shell casings, and what we would have now is a tool where the police could check the ballistic DNA of that bullet or shell casing against every gun that would be sold here in New York state.

And from our friends at the Coalition to Stop Gun Ownership Violence we have the following explanation of “ballistic fingerprinting”:

Ballistic fingerprinting is similar to DNA testing, but for guns. It allows police to take a bullet or cartridge casing from a crime scene and match it up to the exact weapon it was fired from. In other words, it gives police a lead that they otherwise would not have had.

But you want us to believe that this time you really mean it? This time when we give you millions of dollars to spend on high tech toys (instead of putting ‘feet on the street’ as my NYC former cop buddy says) it will make a difference? We can count on this system to solve more than, well, zero crimes in ten years?

Let’s see now, according to this, a NY State Trooper will earn about $74,000 per year over a 20 year career. So figure if each trooper costs the state $150,000 a year, and the state is spending $4 million (the cost of CoBIS) a year on this microstamping thing, then the opportunity cost of this new program for the state is 26 troopers.

Our friendly chief then goes on to state:

Like a vehicle identification number of a car, a microstamp provides law enforcement officers with a more accurate method to identify the owner of a crime gun. Even if police find only one shell casing, they have a 54 percent chance of being able to read the microstamp. If they find more casings, the odds of a match are even better.

If you are interested in knowing where that 54% figure came from, head on over to the Mayors Against All Legal Illegal Guns website where you will find:

The only peer-reviewed study found that microstamping has at least 54% success rate.

Wow, a peer-reviewed study, let’s just click on the link they provide . . . oh, wait, there is no link. I suppose it could be that the “peer-reviewed study” they reference is the one performed by George Krivosta which concluded that:

Not until this research was performed and many test fires examined from a firing pin that had a known recognizable pattern, did it become apparent how much change could take place, and why matching firing pin impressions can be so challenging. … Certainly this research has shown that implementing this technology will be much more complicated than burning a serial number on a few parts and dropping them into firearms being manufactured. [emphasis added]

But there is another 54% I found that is interesting. According to Stamp Out Gun Ownership sorry, I meant Crime; Stamp Out Gun Crime, Albany NY police found shell casing at 54% of shooting scenes. Until your local criminal shooters invest $25 in a brass-catcher (or have access to high-tech equipment like coat hangers and mesh bags). But assume criminals are idiots who don’t know about such things; with a 54% chance of finding one or more casings at the scene and a slightly better than 90% chance of finding a usable microstamp on a casing if they find 3 casings at the scene why that’s almost a 50% chance of finding out who did the shooting! Except that it isn’t. It is almost a 50% chance of finding the person who owns the gun those casings are from. Which leads us to the next problem with microstamping which the Chief indirectly addresses when he says:

Most importantly, microstamping would not have any impact on law-abiding gun owners. The legislation does not apply to hunting rifles or revolvers. It only applies to semiautomatic handguns, which are the weapon of choice for most criminals.

No impact on law-abiding gun owners unless they have to replace a firing pin and order one from the internet, not realizing they are setting themselves up for a class D felony.

No impact on law-abiding gun owners unless the folks doing the refitting jack their prices up from the $12 mentioned in the bill to, well, whatever the market will bear.

No impact on law-abiding gun owners unless some manufacturers and/or retailers figure it’s just not worth the effort to comply and so stop selling in New York (as has happened in California).

No impact on law-abiding gun owners unless, of course, some scuzzball goes to a range (or gets a job there) and polices some brass to sell to fellow criminals so they can ‘salt’ crime scenes with other peoples’ casings, leading to a polite knock on the door by your local constabulary to ask about your possible complicity in a shooting. Or, more likely, an impolite kicking in of your door by your local S.W.A.T. team, just before they shoot your dogs and, (if you don’t figure out they’re cops in time) you when you reach for your bedside gun to deal with this violent home invasion.

Nah, there’s nothing that can possibly go wrong with implementing this magical technology. Besides wasting millions of dollars, driving FFLs out of business and killing the occasional law-abiding gun owner who happened to go shooting at the wrong range.

comments

  1. avatar John says:

    This is why you live in Alabama.

    1. avatar HSR47 says:

      And what’s wrong with that?

    2. avatar Tom says:

      or Indiana.

      1. avatar ken says:

        Better yet UTAH!!!

  2. avatar Ralph says:

    I think we should microstamp politicians. Then, when they steal or spend taxpayer dollars on hookers, we’ll have a 54% chance of putting them where they belong.

    1. avatar rosignol says:

      I think we should MEGA-stamp politicians. Carrying a microscope everywhere is inconvenient, the warning label should be visible to the naked eye.

  3. avatar garynyer says:

    I love my state but seriously hate the people in charge. They are also trying to redefine and increase the restrctions on “assaualt weapons” including making muzzle breaks and compensators illegal, as well as banning all over 10 round magazines including the prebans. Other things to is all magazines of 10 rounds including tublar mags. its all bullshit and im moving because of it.

  4. avatar Don says:

    What boggles my mind here is the infantile conclusion that criminals, many of whom are smart enough to file off the serial number on their gun(s) would not also be able to disassemble said gun and obliterate the micro stamp on the firing pin.

    1. avatar Tom says:

      Details….it is for the good of the people.

  5. avatar GS650G says:

    How about we tattoo the foreheads of every criminal who used (not just uses, but used) a gun with a big sign that says Gun Felon. Should make it easier to round up suspects and act as a decent deterrent to anyone thinking of using guns for crime. Widen it to knives, assault and other crimes too.
    Harsh? Sure, but the shame of a conviction doesn’t seem to be carrying enough weight. Meanwhile the rest of us can rest easier.
    As to the firing pin nonsense, I see a burgeoning business selling firing pins through the mail. It’s not hard to make them really.

    1. avatar Marky says:

      The tattoo idea seems pretty good, except that all of us in NJ will eventually be sporting them. The fact that we lock people up for gun offenses that don’t exist, should be a boon for tattoo parlors.

  6. avatar Adrian says:

    “No impact on law-abiding gun owners unless, of course, some scuzzball goes to a range (or gets a job there) and polices some brass to sell to fellow criminals so they can ‘salt’ crime scenes with other peoples’ casings, leading to a polite knock on the door by your local constabulary to ask about your possible complicity in a shooting. Or, more likely, an impolite kicking in of your door by your local S.W.A.T. team, just before they shoot your dogs and, (if you don’t figure out they’re cops in time) you when you reach for your bedside gun to deal with this violent home invasion.”

    Micro-stamped casings would provide a lead – I doubt they would be probable cause for a search warrant by themselves precisely because it would be so easy to salt a crime scene with random casings – much easier than distributing other people’s fingerprints at a crime scene.

    Micro-stamping does have the POTENTIAL to help solve crimes. I think the ideal situation would be a triggered legislation – something like “microstamping is required on all new guns sold in NY state once 40 other states have passed laws required micro-stamping” or something like that.

    1. avatar garynyer says:

      or your wrong and micro stamping would drive out several thousands jobs from the area as well as putting several close associates out of work who work at remmington

    2. avatar Legion7 says:

      Yo, Adriaaaan!

      How about we just put a GPS chip on EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN NEW YORK? Wouldn’t that have “the potential” (your words) to “help solve crimes”? Why don’t you vote for some politicians who ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING ABOUT …wait for it… CRIME? Like, say locking up criminals for their full sentence, after they haven’t been coddled by your “society made them do it” judges.

      You go first.

      1. avatar Adrian says:

        Yo anonymous person on the internet who loves CAPS LOCK!!

        I’m in law enforcement, I definitely do not favor “catch & release” judges. I do favor solving crimes. I also favor people on the internet who don’t make wild baseless assumptions.

  7. avatar Graybeard says:

    I’ve been a petty bureaucrat for 20 years – and can say with authority and conviction that legislators cannot solve a crossword puzzle. And all attempts to do so result in something resembling the efforts of those monkeys pounding on typewriters trying to write Shakespeare.

    But thats just IMHO…

  8. avatar Joe Grine says:

    How long would it take criminals to figure out that they can taint the evidence at a crime scene by going to a range and picking up microstamped brass before a crime, and then throw those rounds around the crime scene. While I realize that many criminals would be too dumb or two lazy to do so, I’d be willing to bet that some would. Certainly, law abiding citizens would need to be much more vigilant about policing their own marked brass.

    1. avatar CarlosT says:

      Or that they can hide their tracks with a paper bag and duct tape? Or that a revolver would work beautifully as a weapon for mugging?

  9. avatar Corey says:

    Micro stamping would just say who the legal owner of the stolen gun is…not who committed the crime. Plus, the number would wear down over time or can be filed as stated

    1. avatar AK says:

      Exactly. If its worn out after x-thousand rounds are you now guilty of the properest class d felony because the microstamp has been removed?

  10. avatar JP says:

    Just a note: in California it has been ruled that the microstamp on a firing pin is not to be considered an identifying mark on the pistol, so (at least as far as the state is concerned) it’s perfectly legal for the marks to be worn off, filed off, or for the pin to have been replaced with an unmarked one. I have seen some remarks on other sites suggesting that because the microstamp is so easily defaced/changed that they are not admissible as evidence in court. I don’t know it that’s true or not as I haven’t been able to find any cases mentioning microstamping.

  11. avatar Ike says:

    Aside from simple removal of the microstamp, don’t forget the used parts problem. In a few years, buy a used slide (with firing pin) for the pistol, and who knows what microstamp it will have on it? Or what crime it was used in….

    A criminal could also simply buy some once-fired brass, and have a ready supply of throw-down brass to complicate the crime scene.

    1. avatar HSR47 says:

      BUY brass? Why not just pick it up at the range?

      Every time I go shooting, I end up picking up a ton of brass, and not all of it is mine. The last time I went shooting, for example, I ended up with 50-100 pieces of 5.56 brass that I didn’t shoot.

      All a criminal needs to do is pick up brass, and then throw a handful or two of spent casings at every crime scene.

  12. avatar Adrian says:

    Even if a criminal salts a crime scene with brass from someone else’s gun that they picked up at a range, that still gives detectives possible leads. They can track down the registered gun owner, find where he shoots and when he last shot, and they have a chance of figuring out who was picking up brass. Or if they find the same brass dumped at 2 different crime scenes, that ties the crimes together and would also provide leads. Only very very rarely do investigators have too much information.

    Yes, a criminal can get around microstamping. But just because burglars can wear gloves, doesn’t mean that we don’t bother to record fingerprints.

    1. avatar Matt G. says:

      I don’t think I’ll be trusting the same idiots who thought the assault weapons ban was a good idea to be deciding whether my microstamped brass was “planted at the scene”.

      Also, it would be very easy for someone to collect brass shot by my weapon and use it to frame ms for the murder of a friend or spouse. Are the idiots in charge of the NYPD going to believe that some one planted my brass at the scene…or that I just shot my wife because she was cheating on me?

      1. avatar Adrian says:

        Legislators write laws, they don’t investigate murders…

        1. avatar Sam says:

          No one has ever been falsely accused, or worse, falsely convicted. Right.

        2. avatar Bill says:

          You will have to learn how to do your job without infringing on our rights. I am sorry you seem to think this is a good idea, but it is not. It adds cost and headaches for the law-abiding while doing absolutely nothing to solve any crimes; your claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

    2. avatar ExNuke says:

      What do they plan to do about the 350-400,000,000 guns that don’t have micro stamps?

  13. avatar Tom says:

    You do realize that revolvers do exist. Files exist as well. As stated, you can salt the crime scene with other brass resulting in a midnight knock on the door for an innocent person to be taken to the kozentration lager. The microstamp is really too easy to defeat and too costly to implement.

  14. avatar Silver says:

    Criminals are like hackers…create a bigger, better way to try and foil them, and they just take it as a challenge and defeat it within a week.

    Not that I’m saying this system is better. Certainly bigger, in that “common sense” kind of way that only exists in gun-grabber fantasy land.

  15. avatar Pauley says:

    The California micro-stamping law (AB 1471), signed by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in October 2007, has not gone in to effect since the technology remains encumbered by patents. Until those encumbrances are removed, the law is set aside.

  16. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Because so many legislators are lawyers, and most lawyers come from liberal arts majors, they have no clue how easy it is (really) to modify guns. They also have no clue about most all the technological stuff about which they pontificate and filibuster… whether it is the Internet, power regulations, wind power, airplanes, security, you name it.

    I had a conversation with a California legislator years ago and she was in favor of all manner of registration schemes as well as limiting the numbers of guns one could buy, blah, blah. SOP. When I mentioned to her that a) guns could be made outside a factory, and that for some types of guns (eg, blowback semi-auto) the job was actually pretty easy as home craftwork jobs go… you could see the hemispheres of her brain spin in opposite directions.

    When I told her that there are people in Asia who make serviceable handguns with little more than an electric drill and some hand tools, and that some of them can make a revolver in about a week from nothing… she excused herself from the conversation.

    They’re morons. Truly.

    They deserved to be mocked and belittled for being morons. If they don’t want to be mocked, then they can either get smarter (highly doubtful, IMO) or get a job where we’re not paying them.

  17. avatar Bob says:

    Counterfeit firing pins now available at … . I wus framed, judge!

  18. avatar Wagge says:

    The NRA did a video a couple of years ago showing how easy it would be to change the nicks and scrapes the brass gets when fired from a pistol so a registered pistol would become untraceble….

    “Can be easily removed with household tools.”

    If the criminal elements can´t even remove their fingerprints. Most fellons, to date get convicted due to confirmed fingerprints, I don´t believe they will remove a microstamp.

    But then again… most crimes are comitted with illegaly procured firearms. So I think microstamping is ok, but not a realistic solution.

  19. avatar IdahoPete says:

    Next year, the NY legislativeidiots will pass a law making it a felony to own a revolver or a side by side shotgun – “because they are easy ways for criminals to avoid leaving evidence at the crime scene”. And because lots of honest citizens can then be legislatively converted into felons!

  20. avatar george says:

    This is truly the stupidest thing they have come up with yet. If you own a Glock, “let’s just say” they are available just about anyware from ant gun store or online dealer, It would take less than 5 minute replace the firing pin, “competition shooters replace them on just about all their weapons. The same goes with barrels , so What did they accomplish? Also a dremmel would remove it in less than 1 second. Pretty stupid idea.
    Also s mentioned just pick up the thousands of shells left on the floor of any range in the country, and you could frame anyone for a shooting. aside from revolvers leaving no brass, and just picking up the darn shell after you shot it. This just makes no sense at all, a killer is not going to go along with these rules that can be subverted in seconds.

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