By Stephen L. D’Andrilli
As Presented at the 29th Annual Gun Rights Policy Conference on September 27, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois, 2014
MICROSTAMPING OF FIREARMS
As I discuss the topic of microstamping of firearms, keep in mind that California is the first State to implement the microstamping of semiautomatic handguns. It sought to implement microstamping on January 1, 2010. But, patent restrictions precluded putting the law into effect on that date. However, on May 17, 2013, the California Attorney General certified that the technology was not encumbered by patent restrictions. The law, Section 31910(b)(7) of California’s Penal Code took effect immediately. The law sets forth in principal part: all semiautomatic pistols must be “equipped with a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the pistol, etched or otherwise imprinted in two or more places on the interior surface or internal working parts of the pistol, and that are transferred by imprinting on each cartridge case when the firearm is fired.” The lawfulness of that Section is presently being contested by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute. Other States are likely to follow California’s lead. We have to wait and see.
What is microstamping? Todd Lizotte, the inventor of the technology, describes it as a method for inscribing information onto a component part of a semiautomatic handgun. He filed two patents for it, and subsequently assigned all of his right, title and interest in it to a Pennsylvania company, Identification Dynamics, LLC., that, according to the patent registrations, is the current owner of it.
Lizotte’s first patent abstract explains his microstamping technique for inscribing information onto a component part of a firearm. His second patent describes the method and apparatus needed to read the identifying information.
So, why have it? The answer to this question gives us the rationale, good or bad, for using the technology. Antigun groups say that it has made comprehensive ballistic identification a reality; it enables police to trace a gun without ever physically recovering it; and, a traced firearm is a valuable lead in a criminal investigation.
The antigun crowd has latched onto microstamping with enthusiasm, invigorated by the notion that it will help police solve crimes. But, does it really work in practice? Not according to the experts! Here are ten of the problems with it:
First: Microstamping analysis has repeatedly failed tests that were conducted at the University of California, Davis Campus. And, the firearms examiner of Suffolk County, New York, who conducted tests in the police crime lab, found the vast majority of microstamped characters in the alphanumeric serial number could not be read on any of the expended cartridge cases generated and examined.
Second: Studies revealed the technology is easily defeated. The codes on firing pins, for example, were easily removed in minutes, and serial numbers were obliterated using simple household tools.
Third: Most gun crimes cannot be solved by microstamping, or simply do not require it to be solved; notwithstanding TV shows that portray crime-solving as impossible without sophisticated technology.
Fourth: Microstamping does not allow for the quick and simple identification of spent shell casings, by forensic specialists, at the scene of a crime. The testing process is laborious and requires specialized equipment that is very expensive. Lizotte noted the need for such equipment in the second of his two patents.
Fifth: According to the BATFE, almost 90% of gun crimes are acquired through the black market and it takes on average about 11 years for the police to recover those guns. Still, such guns are eventually traced back to the criminal. Microstamped guns, on the other hand, can only link a gun to the lawful owner of it. So, a criminal is likely to turn to a gun source that can never be traced to him: the law-abiding gun owner. Gun thefts are likely then to become more frequent in jurisdictions, such as California, where firearm microstamping laws have been enacted.
Sixth, Similarly, one of the biggest dangers is the possibility that anyone could collect microstamped shell casings from firing ranges and plant them at the scene of a crime. This ultimately could lead to a false arrest or implicate an innocent person in criminal activity, and police can expend needless resources “on a wild goose chase.”
Seventh: It’s unlikely that microstamping technology would be admissible in court. In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., ruled that scientific evidence produced at trial must not only be relevant, but reliable. Microstamping technology, to date, isn’t reliable because it has not gone through extensive peer review to warrant a finding of reliability.
Eight: Credible estimates by gun manufacturers suggest that the cost of a gun incorporating this technology would increase by $100 to $200. As we all know, a “good” semiautomatic pistol can run anywhere from $500 to $1,000, or more. This additional expense would place the cost of owning a semiautomatic pistol well out of reach of many, if not, most Americans.
Ninth: There is the so-called “remainder problem.” There are millions of handguns presently on the market. None of them make use of microstamping technology. California law doesn’t require retrofitting of those guns. Could you imagine the backlash among residents of the State, if California did? Also, many handguns are revolvers. Revolvers do not eject spent shell casings. Criminals need only use a revolver in the commission of a crime to defeat the technology.
Tenth: Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, will not sell semiautomatic handguns in California. Microstamping adds too much cost to the manufacturing process and does nothing to promote gun safety. In effect, then, California’s microstamping law acts as a restraint on trade.
This brings us to the most important question, “does microstamping infringe on our Second Amendment Right to Keep and Bear Arms?”
California’s “Unsafe Handgun Act” is a prelude to gun registration. It requires precisely what Lizotte warns against. It turns microstamping of firearms into a de facto registration scheme because California law requires etching more than a random series of alphanumeric characters on a firearm, but the make, model and serial number of the firearm itself, none of which, at the moment, at least, can be reliably read anyway.
As the Federal Government and certain State Governments seek to keep track of all Americans, to learn ever more about us – our thoughts and habits, our hopes and fears, our beliefs and dreams, what we own or simply what we may wish to own – the microstamping of firearms is yet one more device through which Big Government controls our lives. Registered guns make confiscation of guns much easier. Confiscation of guns is a salient feature of a “Police State.” It isn’t a feature of a “Free Republic.”
Thank you.Copyright © 2014 Roger J Katz (Towne Criour) and Stephen L. D’Andrilli (Publius) All Rights Reserved.