This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, February 20, 2015:
What is it about California? When the blogger at SodaHead asked his audience: “California has the label – the land of fruits and nuts – Why?,” he got numerous responses, including perhaps the best one: “Someone tipped the continent and everything loose rolled here.”
Many of those loose parts found their way into the state’s legislature, which enacted a bill back in 2007 demanding gun manufacturers “microstamp” their guns before selling them, and then putting off the date of enactment until the technology caught up.
Along the way, the developer of the technology, Todd Lizotte, expressed his great concerns about that technology, writing in 2012 that “legitimate questions exist related both to the technical aspects, production costs, and database management associated with microstamping that should be addressed before side scale implementation is legislatively mandated.”
The idea that having guns leave “fingerprints” at the scene of a crime is old, dating back at least to the days of President Lyndon Johnson. He thought it would work well in the field of forensics, placing the owner of the gun at the scene of the crime, even though he had long since vanished into the ether. Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger thought it was a great idea at the time he signed it into law: ““Forensic testing of ammunition used in a crime is the most effective way of tracing criminal activity.”
Microstamping is the process, at least in theory, of imprinting through microengraving unique numerical identifiers on the firing pin and inside the breech of a semi-automatic pistol so that, when fired, the cartridge would show those identifiers. Thus, the cartridge could be traced back to the gun, which could be traced back to its owner, and voila! Crime solved!
With a straight face, the anti-gun group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence explained how this all would work:
Ballistic identification is the science of using a ballistic fingerprint to identify the specific firearm used in a shooting. A comprehensive ballistic identification system would connect a bullet or cartridge case recovered at a crime scene directly to the make, model, and serial number of the gun from which it was fired….
A traced firearm is a valuable lead in a criminal investigation because investigators can then connect that weapon to its first purchaser, who may become either a suspect or a source of information helpful to the investigation.
It must be the water in California. A banner on the Coalition’s website reads: “Imagine a Future Free from Gun Violence,” which might, upon careful inspection, be profitably changed to “a future free from stupidity” or at least “a future free from a high need for intelligent consistency.”
There are at least eight things these worthies got wrong, probably more. First, having a “fingerprint” assumes an enormous database, national in scope, wherein reside all the data of all semi-automatic pistols and their original owners, to which such crime scene “fingerprints” can be compared.
Second, such a fingerprint would go back to the original owner of the weapon, who may long since have passed it on to another or, more likely may have had it stolen in a house-breaking. The shooter may, in fact, be only the latest of perhaps 20 or more possessors of the weapon before the shooting. According to the ATF, nine out of 10 guns used in crimes are stolen, so that knowing the original owner would like be of little use in tracking the actual shooter.
Thirdly, says the FBI, three-quarters of violent crimes are not committed with guns at all.
Fourth, the law wouldn’t apply to revolvers which, by their nature, keep the spent cartridges in the gun’s cylinder.
Fifth, the shooter may have filed off the offending microstamp from the firing pin before committing the crime, he may have retrieved any offending cartridges from the scene before leaving, or, worse, have “seeded” the crime scene with cartridges he might have obtained from a shooting range in an attempt to thwart and complicate any such forensic investigation.
Sixth, reducing the availability of semi-automatic pistols may have the perverse effect of increasing home invasions as criminals seek to obtain weapons for themselves.
Seventh, police officers themselves might be the targets of increased attacks as their own weapons are exempt from California’s law.
Eighth, raising the price of existing weapons that remain “approved” under California’s new law may increasingly put them out of reach of the very people who might need them the most: the poor underclass living in high-crime neighborhoods. According to John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime,
The problem is the people who need guns the most and benefit the most from owning guns, poor individuals in high crime areas, are priced out of the market.
Who do they think they are disarming as a result of the law? It is minorities in poor crime areas….
Aside from these, however, in the never-never land of California, microstamping makes perfect sense: the criminals can rest easy as the law wouldn’t apply to them but only to law-abiding citizens who would like to own a gun but now can’t either because manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger don’t sell them there, or because they’re priced out of their budget.
Hoping to find some intelligent life in the courts, the National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF) and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI), filed suit a year ago to end the madness and have the foolish law forever banned. In their suit, these groups
contend that the provisions [of California’s law] are invalid … and cannot be enforced because it is impossible for a firearm manufacturer to implement microstamping technology in compliance therewith, since no semi-automatic pistol can be designed or equipped with [that technology] … that can be legibly, reliably, repeatedly, consistently and effectively [used to identify the pistol and its fired cartridges]….
The judge, Kimberly Mueller of California’s Eastern District, will rule within the next few days on the matter, and it is hoped, of course, that a modicum of common sense still reigns in a state that likely considers hoplophobia (an unreasonable fear of guns) as just something else to smoke.
Even if microstamping technology worked perfectly and every gun maker were able to incorporate it efficiently and inexpensively into every handgun it makes, it would have little impact on crime and a greatly deleterious impact on precious rights. To be totally effective in tracking every gun back to its original purchaser would require an enormous national database listing the particulars of every gun owned by every owner – a perfect recipe for a totalitarian government in the future to remove them as it would know where every one of them is located. Except for the criminals, of course, the ones the phony microstamping law was initially supposedly focused on.
Either way, the conclusion is in: California is a very different place.
The New American: New Microstamping Law Halts Some Gun Sales in California