10/02 Ballistic Fingerprinting

Ballistic Fingerprinting: New Tool For Gun Opponents
Larry Pratt

A killer is on the loose in the Washington area, and once again, gun haters are using the Beltway shootings as an excuse for more gun control.

The latest weapon in the gun hater’s arsenal is the registration of firearms. Specifically, they want to register the unique “ballistic fingerprint” that each firearm leaves on a bullet or cartridge case after it is fired, and trace it back to the original buyer of the gun.

Ballistic fingerprinting will hardly ever solve a crime, but it will accomplish something else — a gun registry tied to the owners of the guns.

Ballistic fingerprinting will not work for a number of reasons. Probably foremost is that crooks do not use valid identification to buy guns in stores. According to the Carter Justice Department study done by Drs. Wright and Rossi, crooks usually do not leave a paper trail when buying guns. That means that the evidence chain will rarely ever connect back to the crook.

Second, the signature changes with successive firings of the gun. The changes are most pronounced when the gun is new. Moreover, it is not difficult to intentionally disfigure the lands and groves in the barrel to change the signature.

Third, barrels and firing pins can be replaced, creating a brand new signature that does not exist in anybody’s database.

Gun owners oppose registration because governments have a habit of changing the rules at some future date and using the data base of gun owners to demand surrender of the newly banned guns. This is exactly what happened in New York City.

For 25 years all rifles and shotguns were registered. The city’s politicians insisted that crime fighting, not confiscation, was the goal. Then the law was changed, and many of the previously legal guns were on the prohibited list. Those that were not surrendered were confiscated during raids on owners’ homes using the registration lists.

Opposition to registration is hardly the paranoia that gun control supporters want people to believe. Often these same gun control advocates are (rightly) suspicious of the government when Fourth Amendment rights, rather than Second Amendment rights, are involved.

Many pro-gun control civil libertarians (rightly) opposed the PATRIOT Act and John Ashcroft’s inability to limit his actions within constitutional boundaries. They do not call themselves paranoid when opposing the PATRIOT Act which authorizes massive invasions of personal privacy. However, they call gun owners paranoid for opposing gun registration.

Some proponents who want to keep a registry of bullet signatures insist that this is not gun control, just a crime tool. If you study the debates over every piece of gun control legislation in the past, you will find the same argument being made.

Gun control has always been advanced as just crime control.

England used registration to ban guns. Now, according to a 2002 UN study, England is the most violent of the 18 leading industrial countries. If a ban on an island has failed to control crime, what makes us think that any measure short of a ban will do any better here?

Gun control costs lives, it does not save them.