S. 980 and H.R. 2436: A Comprehensive Study Of Ballistic "Fingerprinting" Should Show That It Is Both Unworkable And Unneeded

Posted on June 16, 2003

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Law enforcement uses ballistic imaging technology in criminal investigations all across the nation. The science is very effective at examining evidence left at crime scenes and matching it with firearms collected from suspected criminals. The ballistic "fingerprinting" that is now being proposed has nothing to do with that activity. What is being promoted now is a much broader program that will serve as firearm registration for guns owned by law-abiding citizens.

Gun-prohibitionists have latched onto "ballistic fingerprinting" and have used tragedies and horrific crimes to promote it, but they have failed to show that ballistic "fingerprinting" would be anything more than an expensive firearm registration scheme.

The Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.), the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, has definite reservations about the concept and asks: "First, since ballistic imprints, unlike fingerprinting and DNA, can be altered, either deliberately or simply through normal use, how will we ensure the validity of the findings? Second, how would such a database be compiled and what would be the cost to create and maintain it? The F.O.P. does not support any federal requirement to register privately owned firearms with the federal government.

"(E)ven if such a database is limited to firearms manufactured in the future, the cost to create and maintain such a system, with such small chances that it would be used to solve a firearm crime, suggests to the F.O.P. that these are law enforcement dollars best spent elsewhere.

"(T)here are limits to technology, especially in a free society," the F.O.P. notes, concluding that it "supports greater study of this issue."

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.) have joined together to introduce S. 980, and Representatives Lamar Smith (R-Tx.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) have introduced H.R. 2436, legislation which would mandate:

  • Conducting a comprehensive study of ballistic imaging technology;
  • Determining the effectiveness of ballistic imaging database as an investigative tool for law enforcement;
  • Establishing the cost and effectiveness of state-based imaging systems.

The bill specifically requires that the study examine a number of important questions regarding any ballistic imaging system. It will look at:

  • The methods for packaging and collecting fired projectiles and cartridge cases and the method for entering needed data into a ballistic database, and if an effective procedure is available to reliably collect spent casings and bullets from privately owned firearms.
  • The effectiveness of ballistic imaging in other countries that have instituted such programs.
  • The cost for federal, state and local jurisdictions that have implemented ballistic imaging systems along with a determination of the resources needed to operate the program, including time and manpower.
  • The estimated cost of operating a national ballistic imaging program.
  • The number of the different types of firearms and their use in crime in the U.S. each year.
  • An examination of the factors that can result in the modification of the identifying marks left by a firearm on bullets and casing, including intentional modifications.
  • The potential of a ballistic imaging system to become a centralized registration system for all firearms.

Proponents of ballistic "fingerprinting" insist on rushing forward with a program without any knowledge as to its costs, effectiveness or feasibility. This is clear evidence that they are more interested in the one sure effect of the program--a de facto gun registration system--than they are in actually helping law enforcement solve crimes. Gun prohibitionists have failed repeatedly to convince Congress to support their calls for a national gun registry, and they see ballistic fingerprinting as the best way to surreptitiously pass a gun registration bill.


For more information on ballistic "fingerprinting", please watch the attached video.

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