March 6th, 2008

National Academy of Sciences Opposes Ballistic Imaging Database and Questions Microstamping Technology

On March 5, 2008, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released an extensive study on the feasibility of a national ballistic imaging database(sometimes misleadingly referred to as “ballistic fingerprinting”). The study concludes, “A national database containing images of ballistic markings from all new and imported guns sold in the U.S. should not be created at this time”.

The contemplated national ballistic imaging system would require that a fired cartridge casing from every newly manufactured and imported firearm sold at retail in the United States be sent to a federal agency to be imaged and up-loaded into a massive government-run database.

Forensic experts at the California Department of Justice raised questions about the feasibility of such a system when the California legislature was considering establishing a statewide system like New York and Maryland. The California DOJ concluded, “Automated computer matching [ballistic imaging] systems do not provide conclusive results.”

The Maryland and New York ballistic imaging programs have been in place for almost a decade but neither has produced a single arrest or prosecution despite several million dollars of taxpayer funding. The Maryland State Police Department has called for their program to be repealed.

In the NAS study, the NAS researchers questioned the validity of the science underlying this technology. “The fundamental assumption underlying forensic firearms identification – that every gun leaves microscopic marks on bullets and cartridge cases that are unique to that weapon and remain the same over repeated firings – has not yet been fully demonstrated scientifically. A number of problems would hinder the usefulness and accuracy of a national database.”

NAS Questions Micro-Stamping
The NAS study also examined a newly developed technology called “firearms microstamping”. Microstamping is a patented sole-source process that laser engraves the firearm’s make, model and serial number on the tip of the gun’s firing pin so that, in theory, it imprints the information on discharged cartridge cases.

A recent peer-reviewed study published in the professional journal for forensic firearms examiners proved that the technology of microstamping is unreliable and does not function as the patent holder claims. It can be easily defeated in mere seconds using common household tools or criminals could simply switch the engraved firing pin for readily available unmarked spare parts.

Experts at the University of California at Davis recently finished a study of the technology. The U.C. Davis researchers found the technology “flawed” and concluded that “further testing, analysis and evaluation is required.” Similarly, the NAS report noted that “further studies are needed on the durability of microstamping marks under various firing conditions and their susceptibility to tampering, as well as on the their cost impact for manufacturers and consumers.”

Last year California enacted legislation to require that all new models of semi-automatic pistols sold in the state be microstamped beginning January, 2010. “Microstamping will add approximately $200 to the price of each firearm,” noted NSSF Sr. VP and Gen’l Counsel Lawrence Keane.

This news report was provided by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

CLICK HERE for Ballistic Imaging Fact Sheet.

CLICK HERE for Info on Firearms Microstamping.

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