Police Question Ballistics
Proposals for a Ballistics Imaging and Comparison national database
has drawn fire from the Fraternal of Police (FOP) which warns
that the technology has multiple drawbacks that make it unwise to
implement both it and the national firearms database the plan would
Anti-Second Amendment forces aided by the largely pro-gun grabber
media have exploited the tragic Washington-area sniper shootings
to justify creating the database that would, in effect, accomplish
their longed-for goal of national gun registration despite the fact
that as an effective law enforcement tool, such a program is shot
full of holes.
The FOP describes the ballistics imaging and comparison technology,
as one which "electronically records and compares the marks
or impressions on the cartridge case and projectile of a round of
ammunition fired from a handgun or rifle." Although it is "an
important law enforcement tool, like most tools, its use is limited
by circumstance and the peculiarities of a specific investigation."
According to the FOP's report on Ballistics Imaging and Comparison
Technology, "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
(ATF) maintains a National Integrated Ballistic Information
Network (NIBIN), which is restricted to the ballistic imaging of
data associated with crime guns. This has proved to be very effective
to investigators, enabling them to link multiple shootings in which
the same firearm was used, as is the current case with the serial
sniper operating in the Washington, D.C.,-metropolitan area, and
to definitively connect recovered firearms to a particular shooting
"We must keep in mind that there are limits to the utility
of this information with respect to investigating firearms crime
and prosecuting criminals who use guns."
The FOP cites these limits:
In all cases, it is necessary that investigators
recover a bullet or shell casing from the crime scene which is intact
enough to allow forensic analysis to be able to identify the ballistic
markings. The firearm must then be recovered in order for the gun
and the bullet or shell casing to be conclusively linked. Thus,
this tool is often just as useful for excluding potential suspects
as identifying those already in custody.
In order to make a case, investigators
must discover a chain of evidence: an intact bullet or shell case
needs to be recovered from the crime scene, then linked to a gun
and then the gun linked to a shooter. Ballistics imaging and comparison
technology is very limited in accomplishing the latter.
In the wake of the serial shootings in
the Washington, D.C.,-area, there has been a renewed call for a
ballistics "fingerprint" database. The FOP believes that
several questions must be answered. First, since ballistic imprints,
unlike fingerprints and DNA, can be altered, either deliberately
or simply through normal use, how will we ensure the validity of
Second, how would such a database be compiled
and what would be the cost to create and maintain it? The FOP does
not support any federal requirement to register privately owned
firearms with the federal government. Without federally-mandated
registration of the more than 200 million firearms in the U.S. today,
such a database would be no more effective than the current NIBIN
maintained by ATF.
Even if such a database is limited to firearms
manufactured in the future, the cost to create and maintain such
a system, with such limited potential of solving a firearm crime,
suggests to the FOP that these are law enforcement dollars best
There are limits to technology, especially
in a free society. Like other technological breakthroughs achieved
in the last 25 years, this technology could be invaluable to state
and local law enforcement officers in solving crimes, but it is
a tool only, and not a substitute for good, solid boots-on-the-ground
The FOP concluded by stating that, like the Bush White House, it
favors greater study of this issue, so as to learn how better to
employ the technology we possess to help solve and prevent crimes.
Prior to setting up a national database of ballistic "fingerprints"
as a revolutionary advancement in law enforcement technology, the
FOP says "we would be wise to study its efficacy in the field
with a view to reaching a supportable conclusion as to how, and
under what legal circumstances, we can best use this very promising
Echoing the FOP, the Wall Street Journal also looked askance
at the thinly disguised demand for what amount to national gun registration.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA),
the so-called "ballistics imaging" - a national "gun
fingerprint" database could be constructed if gun manufacturers
were required to submit a spent shell casing from each new gun.
Each gun leaves distinct markings that could be matched against
the database and enable police to trace guns used in crimes.
NCPA cites the Journal as reporting that in New York and Maryland,
which already have ballistics-fingerprinting laws, more than 17,000
shell casings have been compiled over two years, producing two matches,
no convictions, and not a single crime prevented or solved.
While manufacturers typically test-fire guns, the problem according
to the Journal, is that casing marks produced by firing a new gun
can differ significantly from later firings due to normal wear-and-tear.
And altering the markings is a "relatively easy affair"
that "required less than five minutes of labor."
NCPA cites what it calls "the most comprehensive ballistics
study, conducted last year by the California Department of Justice,"
which found that the number of potential matches generated that
would require manual review "will be so large as to be impractical
and will likely create logistic complications so great that they
cannot be effectively addressed."
Finally, a central ballistics database would only help track a
gun to its original owner, whereas the overwhelming majority of
criminals use stolen guns.
Once again, hysterical gun-grabbers have labored mightily and produced
a blank cartridge.