The one side of the story: a crime scene evidence collector finds a shell casing at the scene of a crime. They photograph it, bag it, and turn it over to the crime lab. Upon examination, they find a microscopic imprint on the case head that belongs to a Value Arms .223 serial number 69000. After a search with the manufacturer, investigators find the distributor that sold it, who contacts the gunshop it was sent to. A phone call and fax to the gun shop has a return fax of an ATF form 4473 with whom they sold the firearm to. Science fiction? CSI on steroids? No its micro stamping and it could possibly be coming to a firearm near you.
What is it?
The process is actually simple. The breech face and or the firing pin of the firearm is made with tiny plate bearing a unique code. When the round is fired, the code is stamped by the force of the recoil into the soft brass of the cartridge being fired.
Micro stamping differs from conventional ballistic fingerprinting which results from extreme pressures present in the chamber to the cartridge. The micro stamping method would use microscopic engravings on the firing pin to record make, model, and serial number data on the cartridge primer, useful when matching gun casings found at a crime scene. It is advertised that this tool would be used to help law enforcement link victims to suspects.
Problems with the process
In a perfect world, this almost sounds like a good idea, and actually in some circumstances, such as in battlefield analysis with military firearms, would have a useful purpose. However, to stamp every firearm in production with such a code is overkill and probably would not produce the desired effect.
Even if a cartridge case was found at the scene, and a firearm that has the breech faceplate only stamped it, it would not necessarily lead to the firearm that fired it. If the case had been once fired and then sold or picked up on the range to be reloaded, it would have multiple stamps. Worse, if the second firearm did not have the micro stamp plate then the casing could have only the first stamp on its face. This could lead investigators to chase down a bogus lead and further waste time. This also leaves the possibility of elaborate but still possible 'frames' by methodical killers of innocent marks.
In addition, inevitable clerical errors, parts replacements, and other possibilities further cloud the process. Likewise, black powder firearms, rim fires and others have their own set of exclusions that would be outside of the argument.
The simple notion that this process is not fool proof would make it unlikely that a prosecutor could and would even use it as evidence in a capital murder case.
On October 13, 2007, California lawmakers signed into law Assembly Bill 1471 (AB 1471) which implements micro stamping technology, making California the first State in the Nation to mandate its use. The bill requires that all semi-automatic handguns purchased in California, beginning in 2010, have the ability to imprint identifying information on cartridges fired by the weapon, turning spent cartridges into potential evidence in civil and criminal cases. So far, this has been held up due to the patents involved in the process. It was hoped by gun control groups that the patent process's looming expiration would enable the new law to take effect.
Calguns, a 2A group in the People's Republic have however extended the patent.
In 2008 a nationwide version of California's micro stamping law, the so-called National Crime Gun Identification Act, was introduced into the US House and Senate by democratic backers, and was defeated.
Meanwhile the process and laws to make it mandatory are still being floated around. The New York State Assembly last week was debating it. According to a NY Times article, "The issue has become so heated that, in New York, where the state Assembly was debating a microstamping bill last week, one gun maker, the Remington Arms Co., threatened to pull its business out of the state if the bill became law. "Such a mandate could force Remington to reconsider its commitment to the New York market altogether," said company spokesman Teddy Novin."
Be sure to get your calls, emails, and letters ready.