In 2007, then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a microstamping law that would go into effect only when certain technologies that did not actually–you know–exist, came into being. In 2013, Attorney General Kamala Harris declared those tech triggers to be extant–they weren’t–and thus, the law to be in force. Alan Gura, the most successful attorney vindicating the Second Amendment rights of Americans in recent American history, filed a lawsuit–Pena v. Lindley–on behalf of the Second Amendment Foundation and Calguns Foundation, as Fox News notes . . .
“This is about the state trying to eliminate the handgun market,’ said Alan Gura, the lead attorney in Pena v. Lindley, filed on behalf of the Second Amendment Foundation and Calguns Foundation against the Chief of the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms. ‘The evidence submitted by the manufacturers shows this is science fiction and there is not a practical way to implement the law…
‘At some point gun sales will cease,’ he added.”
The Second Amendment is finally beginning to catch up to the Democrat rulers of California, gradually forcing them to obey the law and recognize the right to keep and bear arms. However, they do not do this willingly, and throw any legislative obstacle or lie they can in the path of the honest and law-abiding:
“The microstamping bill was introduced by the state lawmaker and current Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who insists the technology is not only workable, it will make it much easier to solve gun crimes.
‘When we know who bought the crime gun, that’s a significant lead for law enforcement,’ said Feuer co-founder of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence.
If the law were expanded throughout the country, Feuer believes the technology could help solve the approximately 45 percent of gun crimes in the country that go unsolved.
Dr. Dallas Stout, president of the California Brady Chapters, also endorsed the law after pushing for its passage, saying it will ‘provide law enforcement with an important tool to track down armed criminals and help solve gun crimes.’
Both ballistic identification and microstamping systems help law enforcement investigate gun crimes because cartridge cases are much more likely to be recovered at the scene of a shooting than the gun itself, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence maintained.”
Microstamping technology is far from ready for prime time. This has been well addressed elsewhere. This article will, therefore, focus primarily on the claims of California–and other–politicians and anti-liberty activists that microstamping is a vital crime fighting and solving tool.
The popular “CSI” programs have been profitable, but where accurate knowledge of science, police procedure and the law are concerned, they serve the public poorly. Crime scene techs, with virtually no exceptions, don’t carry firearms, don’t question suspects, don’t make arrests, and are seen outside their labs only when investigating a crime scene, when testifying in court, or at lunch. Their labs look nothing like the gleaming, high-tech glass and stainless steel wonders of Hollywood sets. They’re not filled with magic equipment like holographic projectors, and they don’t have a fraction of the 24th century technological capabilities as is portrayed on TV.
Take, for example, fingerprint identification. For as long as it has been practiced, fingerprint ID is still far more an art than a science. There is no universal agreement on how many points must be identified to make a positive match, or precisely how such things are to be determined. There is, particularly, no universal federal computer database containing hundreds of millions of fingerprints.
Unlike television, no technician can feed a partial fingerprint recovered at a crime scene into a mythical database which will, within seconds—or minutes, hours, days or weeks, for that matter—spit out a positive identification of the criminal, including photos, his address, and all other identifying information. There are no such state systems, either. Computer technology has made storage of fingerprints and their retrieval by name, date of birth and other identifiers a more efficient matter, but this process is far from universal, and is still, in most places, in its infancy.
In reality, fingerprints, and virtually all other physical evidence, are useful only when they can be compared with known suspects.
If a detective in Phoenix, say, has recovered latent fingerprints from a burglary scene and he develops three suspects, he can have a local examiner—or an FBI examiner—look over the fingerprints of those three suspects, but only if they are already on file and known by name. Or only if the detective can get the suspects to submit to fingerprinting.
If those three suspects refuse to be fingerprinted, if they weren’t involved, if they do not have prior criminal records that required fingerprinting, or if the examiner can’t make a positive match, the detective is out of luck. If there is other evidence, they might still be arrested and convicted, but those partial latent fingerprints found at the scene of the crime are essentially useless.
All experienced police officers have wasted time delicately spreading a bit of fingerprint powder around burglary scenes at the insistence of citizens just sure that will solve the crime. To make the citizens happy and avoid complaints, they dirty up their homes or vehicles, lift a few latent prints, and make the appropriate moves and noises. In reality, fingerprints don’t readily adhere to many surfaces, and most are mere partial prints, smeared or otherwise useless. And again, unless one has specific suspects with which to compare those partial latent prints, they’re useless.
In years of police work, when I specialized in the burglaries of motor vehicles, I did not solve a single case via fingerprint identification (I solved hundreds otherwise). In nearly two decades of police work, I did not solve a single case via cartridge cases left at the scene, nor did such evidence ever play a meaningful role in solving a case, nor was I ever aware of such a case. Microstamping would have made no difference at all.
The simple truth of police work is that virtually all crimes are solved the old fashioned way: by cops talking to people. Only after they develop suspects the old fashioned way is physical evidence of any kind usually useful in helping to tie those suspects to crimes, and in many cases, that’s just not possible. Anyone suggesting that microstamping can be a valuable crime-solving tool is either woefully uninformed about actual police work, lying, or both.
The California law, like virtually all others, applies only to semiautomatic handguns, not rifles, shotguns or revolvers. Even if it applied to every other firearm type, it would still be ridiculously easy for criminals to defeat. The easiest method: leave no expended cases behind. Criminals can add brass catchers to their weapons–one can be made with duct tape and a plastic bag–or simply spend a few seconds picking up their brass.
Other methods are only slightly more difficult and time-consuming. Criminals can use non-microstamped firearms, which is most firearms in America. Microstamped engraving–done by laser–can be removed from a firing pin with only a few minute’s application of sandpaper or other abrasives, or a non-engraved firing pin can be substituted. If a criminal were particularly bright, he could use a non-engraved pin when committing crimes, and replace the engraved pin thereafter. “You want to examine my gun? Of course, officer! Go right ahead.”
Extractors and other parts of firearms leave potentially distinctive marks on cases, but these too can be altered or exchanged.
Perhaps the most obvious method is to steal a gun and use that. This is how criminals get the majority of their firearms in the first place. They tend not to obey laws, which is why they are called “criminals.”
A particularly cleverly perverse criminal could collect microstamped cases at a shooting range and leave a few at the scenes of his crimes. This would have the effect of sending the police on lengthy and expensive wild goose chases; they’d have to follow up every potential lead.
Criminals could merely dispose of any weapon they used in a shooting, which is not an uncommon practice even now. No gun existing, nothing to which to match a microstamped case.
Many of these possibilities read like a fictional thriller in which a super-intelligent criminal is pitted against a super-intelligent investigator. In the real world, most criminals are not highly intelligent, nor do they take the time to go through all manner of stunts to thwart identification. One doesn’t have to be very bright to dispose of guns they use in crimes, nor do they have to be criminal masterminds not to leave brass behind, whether they do it by picking up expended casings or by simply using guns that don’t automatically eject their brass. A smart crook could kill someone with a muzzle loading firearm, which uses no brass or firing pin at all.
But what about preventing crimes? Won’t microstamping make bad guys think twice? People commit crimes, not guns. It is people who must be identified, caught and imprisoned, not their tools. Likewise, tools cannot be deterred.
But just for the sake of placating Misters Feuer and Stout, consider this scenario, set in 2082. Microstamping legislation has swept the nation and every firearm in America has been microstamp capable for the last half-century. Only certain non-shooting antiques are exempt. There is a vast national microstamping database tied into equally vast state databases, and all of the hardware and software–because it’s a government project–works perfectly and is foolproof (it’s fiction; play along).
A man is shot and killed in a dark alley and a single piece of empty brass, appropriately microstamped in two places, is found. The brass is scanned into a holographic computer that, within two seconds, finds that the brass was fired by a Ruger model PZ97Q 9mm semiautomatic handgun. The computer dutifully displays the date of manufacture, the distributor that sold the gun to a retail gun store, and the federal paperwork on the original buyer, one Thomas P. Honest, of 2785 Respectable Lane, Solid Citizen, North Dakota six years earlier.
Great news! The crime is solved! A SWAT teams breaks down Honest’s door, there is a tearful confession, and that’s that.
Even assuming such miraculous technology, all that is really known is that Thomas P. Honest may have bought the gun six years ago, and even that must be proved in court. The police and prosecution–assuming we still have a presumption of innocence and the rule of law in whatever version of America exists in 2082–must still be able to prove who was in possession of that gun at the place and time of the crime. They must be able to prove that the person in possession of the gun actually fired it and that the bullet he fired struck and killed the victim. This is commonly far more difficult than CSI dramas lead one to believe.
Return to 2015 where no such computers and software exist. Even if an abandoned microstamped case could possibly lead to the original purchaser of the involved gun, all the police have is that information–the original purchaser of the gun. That’s better than nothing, but in virtually all cases, will do nothing to catch bad guys and solve crimes. Let along prevent them.
CSI–and microstamping–remain fictions, in fact and application.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.