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.