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The idea that every cartridge fired from a gun should later be traced uniquely and specifically back to the owner is an appealing one. Every week you see it happen on CSI: Miami — one casing left at a crime scene is analyzed and leads back to someone’s “registered” handgun — but the realities of matching the semi-unique markings left on the cartridge case to a specific firearm are mindbogglingly complex. That’s a hard reality that the state of Maryland has has finally fessed up to as they finally admitted that their multi-million dollar “firearm fingerprinting” system had become an expensive, useless waste of taxpayer dollars . . .

From the Baltimore Sun:

Since 2000, the state required that gun manufacturers fire every handgun to be sold here and send the spent bullet casing to authorities. The idea was to build a database of “ballistic fingerprints” to help solve future crimes.

But the system — plagued by technological problems — never solved a single case.

[…]

In a old fallout shelter beneath Maryland State Police headquarters in Pikesville, the state has amassed more than 300,000 bullet casings, one from each new handgun sold here since the law took effect. They fill three cavernous rooms secured by a common combination lock.

Each casing was meticulously stamped with a bar code, sealed in its own envelope and filed in boxes stacked from floor to ceiling. Forensic scientists photographed the casings in hopes the system would someday identify the owner of a gun fired at a crime scene. The system cost an estimated $5 million to set up and operate over the years.

But the computerized system designed to sort and match the images never worked as envisioned. In 2007, the state stopped bothering to take the photographs, though hundreds of thousands more casings kept piling up in the fallout shelter.

The ballistic fingerprinting law was repealed effective Oct. 1, ending the requirement that spent casings be sent in. The General Assembly, in repealing the law, authorized the state police to sell off its inventory for scrap.

Did you catch that. The system never solved one…single…case.

Brainstorms like “ballistic fingerprinting” and so-called “smart guns” fall into the same rough category: pie in the sky. In theory they could have a positive impact on reducing (or at least solving) firearms-related crimes and accidents. The problem is that gun controllers only see their “positive” possibilities and never actually stop to consider how well these technologies work out here in the real world. Or how well they don’t. Think of Maryland’s ill-conceived system as the ballistic equivalent of healthcare.gov:

Worse, the system Maryland bought created images so imprecise that when an investigator submitted a crime scene casing, the database software would sometimes spit out hundreds of matches. The state sued the manufacturer in 2009 for $1.9 million, settling three years later for $390,000.

Good thing it was only taxpayer dollars or someone might have to account for the system’s failure.

Forensically linking cases to a specific gun is accepted and valid forensic science, but even then the term used to describe a match is “consistent.” As in, “these two cases are consistent with being fired from the same gun.” There is no absolute certainty, as seen each week on episodes of CSI-Peoria, especially when you have hundreds of nearly-identical mass-produced firearms.

While the first cartridge won’t vary much from the second one, the distinctive markings crime scene investigators rely on appear only after years of unique use. So it makes sense that when you have a catalog of the very first round fired through a new mass-produced handgun there isn’t going to be much variation, which means the number of potential matches will be rather insane.

That’s not the reason why the Maryland system failed, though. It was doomed from the beginning simply due to the realities of crime in the United States. If a firearms owner goes through the rigmarole of registering their handgun, they probably aren’t going to go use it to commit crimes. This is from one of the designers of the system’s post on Reddit about the massive failure:

Registration evidence from law-abiding gun owners is inherently of very little value to investigators. Anyone willing to go through the process of legally acquiring a gun in Maryland is probably not a criminal. In the rare cases where a legally registered gun was linked to a crime it would fall in one of two categories:

  • Crime of passion / heat of the moment. A gun owner used their legally obtained gun to commit a crime on the spur of the moment. By and large, investigators didn’t need a complicated system to tell them whodunit, they’d generally have all the evidence needed to arrest.
  • Stolen gun. A registered gun is linked to a crime, but the legal owner reported it stolen ages ago. That knowledge that a gun was legally purchases by John Q. Public and stolen years ago is exceedingly unlikely to be useful to investigators.

In short, while the concept may have been good, the execution has some fatal flaws not only due to the physical realities of how guns work, but also the realities of where criminals get their guns. All it takes to make the system useless is about five seconds with a metal file on the breech face of a handgun and the fingerprint submitted to the police department will no longer match up with fingerprint of the gun that’s on file.

There is no way to uniquely identify guns based on analysis of their fired cartridges (microstamping is an even bigger headache and more problematic), but just as with “smart guns,” civilian disarmer types have shown an utter disregard for reality, continuing to push their agenda anyway. They seem completely divorced from reality, choosing instead to believe that they live in a fantasy world where “simple” ideas like these are flawless and will stop all crime.

When you ignore the truth about guns, failures of systems like this are the end result. It’s just good that Maryland figured out their blunder before squandering any more of their taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

51 Responses to Maryland Scraps Firearms “Ballistic Fingerprinting” Effort, Admits It Was a Complete Waste of Time

  1. No reason to stop the program. It clearly only needs more taxpayer money, more staff, more bureaucrats, and more invasive testing.

    A small tax on individual bullets and firearms will generate enough revenue to maintain and expand the program. If it saves only one life, it will be worth it.

    Regards,

    Every Liberal in the USA

    • That’s right. In the liberals book, when something doesn’t work we need more of it, or it doesn’t work because it hasn’t been applied to everything else nearby. We need this in every state. More tax dollars for these projects are needed. Expand it globally. Mandate it in Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, etc. Send UN troops for enforcement. Drop patriot missiles until they comply. More tax dollars globally. Together, we can make this work.

    • + ^ This.

      “Admits It Was a Complete Waste of Time” . . . but some (D)umb mf GOT PAID !!!

      Anything to pad the coffers before election time.

      I want an accounting, then executions

      Regards

      The (D)ictator that they are trying to be.

    • Maybe.

      Like with Oholebamacare, ACORN, all similar ‘proposed’ action, the $& went somewhere. Maybe their efforts haven’t failed, maybe it was just another way to pull $ out of public coffers and direct it to (their) friendly parties. I wonder if any $ went overseas to any “study” group, or to any not for profit foundation that makes donations to (D)bags.

  2. Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat (wow, I didn’t see that coming) who pushed for the database, said “It’s a little unfortunate, in that logic and common sense suggest that it would be a good crime-fighting tool.”

    See, it’s common sense! Just like every other stupid idea that Democrats pull out of their asses.

      • Logic and common sense to him means– somebody selling something told me what I wanted to hear and already believed to be true without consulting anyone with actual expertise.

    • Glendenning is the idiot who demonstrated how trigger-locks would not interfere with someone’s ability to use their gun in self defense. Except he totally got stuck in his demonstration, and had to pass the gun off to a state trooper standing next to him to get it unlocked. Glendenning and “logic and common sense” are complete strangers.

    • Logic and common sense without science is nothing but unsubstantiated day dreams. An idea may start with L&CS, but it needs science to determine the validity of the idea. So as much as Libs and Proglodytes ™ accuse Conservatives of being anti-science they willfully skip that step.

      NY gave up their shell case collection a couple of years ago.

      Microstamping fails for the same reasons as this. A Suffolk County (Long Island) forensics firearm scientist wrote a paper years ago debunking microstamping.

  3. So are they going to credit the Maryland citizenry on their state taxes? No? Shocked face.

    To think they could have spent that money to pay thugs to talk other thugs out of thuggery. /sarc

    so sad to see all that pristine single fired brass go to the scrapper,

    • Maryland needs to publish a list of all lawmakers who voted for the database setup in the first place. Then let’s hear their excuses and carping.

    • Does anyone believe $5 million over 15 years? My guess is closer to a billion, maybe more, but they will never admit that!

  4. The Maryland State Police called this system a waste of time and money and recommended that it be scrapped — in 2005! At the same time, the Dims who own Maryland were trying to have it extended to long guns. Because guns.

  5. If I lived in Md while that was in effect I’d use a replacement barrel in my handguns–just because. Unless they had some equally wacky law saying you couldn’t do that.

        • They were collecting casings, no? Barrel doesn’t leave any mark on casings that i know of.

        • Barrels can, and do leave marks on casings, BUT they would be so minute, that it would take a powerful microscope to see and identify them. A lot more trouble than it would be worth.

      • The breech, the extractor, the firing pin, feed ramp and even the bolt face can all leave small markings on the case and primer. I suppose feed lips could, too, but that would be even more impossible to track.

        But virtually all of those parts can be replaced with anonymous replacements on most mass-market semi-auto handguns.

        The bolt face would be the most troublesome, and it by itself probably rarely marks a case in a manner distinctive enough to be definitive in the absence of matching marks from other components.

        Anyway, it’s all on a par with reading tea leaves.

  6. Obviously, the only way it can work if the Federal government gets involved and expands the program to the entire country while spending billions of more taxpayer’s dollars.

  7. Meanwhile, ATF’s “ballistic fingerprinting” system, called the “Integrated Ballistics Identification System” (IBIS) continues merrily along sucking up taxpayer dollars so television programs (such as CSI) can magically solve fictional crimes. Makes one wonder if there are any accurate statistics on how many actual crimes have been solved with IBIS. Of course, ATF will claim they have gotten scores of ‘hits’, but will never admit exactly how many real crimes have been solved through the magic of “ballistic fingerprinting”…….

  8. My favorite- I had to wait a bit beyond the mandatory seven days to pick up my Maryland hand gun, in order to provide a casing for the repository.
    The handgun? S&W 686.

    Yep, a wheel gun.

  9. Thank heavens that California saw beyond the technical issues of standard “ballistic fingerprinting” and went full retard on microstamping – because molecular-sized marks on a firing pin will surely be immune to wear and tear, tampering, or a piece of grit in the firing pin channel.

  10. P. S.

    Pics of piled up new (or freshly used) brass makes me happy. : )

    Thank you for the Monday Morning Boost Nick.

    • You know how many failed college football coaches are raking in sums like that? Ask the University of Kansas.

  11. Fine classic example of government gone mad. As a salesman of equipment, I have to prove my kit everyday. Tip the hat to that jackass who dreamed it up, sold it to elected representatives who had NO idea how a visual database is created or maintained. How many more debacles my citizen endure?

    • I’m not sure why. There are a lot of people out there who see such failures as more evidence that guns should simply be outlawed, that would solve all our problems without further ado.

  12. If Bloomberg & friends put in a billion dollars each to develop software capable of matching cases to chambers, and the system was 100% accurate, and every single gun crime could be solved by finding a spent case?

    Then criminals would just use revolvers. LOL.

  13. Ya’ know my son lives in the Maryland paradise-he thinks it’s swell. Ex-military and spies for DoD. Oh wait-now I get it. I shut up because of the grandkids…

  14. I love watching TV shows where the police arrest someone for having an “unregistered gun” in a state like freaking Arizona, Wyoming, etc. I was watching NCIS which I generally like but they were in Virginia and a guy had a shotgun in his gun rack and he immediately says “I have permit for that its registered”. I chuckled a bit. I guess it is filmed in California so the writers probably aren’t familiar with freedom but it still bugs me when I see that crap on TV. I once saw this same scenario in a TV Movie that took place in Vermont and the officer was like “I’m gonna need to see a permit for that handgun or your going to jail”, as if people in Vermont even know what permits for guns are!

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