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Lone_Star_Dem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-05-08 12:51 PM
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Federal study opposes national firearms database
Source: Associated Press

WASHINGTON A government-sponsored study issued today recommends against creating a nationwide firearm database, saying the science behind the proposed ballistics database is too murky.

The idea is based on the assumption that each gun leaves unique markings on bullets, like fingerprints.

Some say every new gun should be test-fired and have its markings entered into a database. Investigators could then use the database to identify which gun fired shell casings and bullets found at crime scenes.

Read more:

Report advises against new national database of ballistic images

WASHINGTON A national database containing images of ballistic markings from all new and imported guns sold in the U.S. should not be created at this time, says a new report from the National Research Council. Such a database has been proposed to help investigators link ballistics evidence -- cartridge cases or bullets found at crime scenes -- to a firearm and the location where it was originally sold. But given the practical limitations of current technology for generating and comparing images of ballistic markings, searches of such an extensive database would likely produce too many candidate "matches" to be helpful, the report says.

The report notes that the fundamental assumption underlying forensic firearms identification that every gun leaves microscopic marks on bullets and cartridge cases that are unique to that weapon and remain the same over repeated firings has not yet been fully demonstrated scientifically. More research would be needed to prove that firearms identification rests on firmer scientific footing, said the committee that wrote the report.

Nevertheless, current ballistic imaging technology can be useful in generating leads for law enforcement investigation, said the committee. Its report recommends ways to improve the usefulness of an existing ballistic image database limited to ballistics evidence associated with crimes that is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and used by more than 200 state and local law enforcement agencies. It also recommends further research on "microstamping," a technique that imprints unique marks on guns or ammunition. This promising method could be an alternate way to attain the same basic goal as the proposed database.

National Database Would Be of Limited Usefulness

"Toolmarks" are created on cartridge cases and bullets when a gun is fired -- for example, when a bullet scrapes against grooves on the inside of the gun barrel, or when high gas pressure forces the walls of a cartridge case against the gun's firing chamber. These toolmarks have long been used to help solve crimes -- for example, a firearms examiner might compare a crime-scene bullet to one test-fired from a suspect's gun to determine whether the marks match. Since the 1980s, computerized imaging has allowed law enforcement agencies to input toolmark images in databases of crime-related ballistic evidence and search for images of bullets or cases with similar marks.

The National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice asked the National Research Council to assess the feasibility of a national database that would contain images of toolmarks from all new and imported guns; about 4.5 million new guns are sold in the U.S. each year, including about 2 million handguns. With such a system, when a gun is sold, images of cartridge cases from a firing of that gun would be entered into the database, possibly with information on its original purchaser. Investigators around the country who collect ballistic evidence at crime scenes could search the database for possible matches. Maryland and New York already operate such databases for guns sold or manufactured in those states.

A number of problems would hinder the usefulness and accuracy of a national database, the report says. Ballistic images from millions of guns could be entered each year, and many of the images would depict toolmarks that are very similar in their gross characteristics. Research suggests that current technology for collecting and comparing images may not reliably distinguish very fine differences in large volumes of similar images, the report says. Searches would likely turn up too many possible "matches" to be useful. Also, the type of ammunition actually used in a crime could differ from the type used when the gun was originally test-fired a difference that could lead to significant error in suggesting possible matches.

The report does recommend 15 improvements to the ATF's National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), an existing database that contains ballistic images from crime scenes and suspects' weapons. Seven recommendations focus on improving the operation of the NIBIN program; for example, the program should consider protocols for entering multiple images from the same gun ideally involving multiple ammunition types rather than relying on a single "best" case. The report also recommends eight ways to improve the database's technical platform -- for instance, by simplifying routines for conducting searches across multiple regions of the country. The committee examined the possibility of using three-dimensional surface measurement techniques rather than two-dimensional photographic images, but suggests the need for further research and testing before such a change is made.

Claims of Certainty About 'Matches' Without Firm Grounding

The report does not assess the admissibility of firearm toolmark evidence in legal proceedings, since making such a determination was not part of the committee's charge. However, it cautions that the statement commonly made by firearms examiners that "matches" of ballistic evidence identify a particular source gun "to the exclusion of all other firearms" should be avoided. There is currently no statistical justification for such a statement, and it is inconsistent with the element of subjectivity inherent in any firearms examiner's assessment of a match.

If firearms identification is to rest on firmer scientific ground, more research would need to assess the fundamental assumption that toolmarks are unique and remain recognizable over time, despite repeated firings. Such research should include a program of experiments covering a full range of factors that may degrade a gun's toolmarks, as well as factors that might cause different guns to generate similar toolmarks. Intensive work is also needed on the underlying physics, engineering, and metallurgy of firearms, in order to better understand the mechanisms that form toolmarks as a weapon is fired.

Microstamping Should Be Studied

The report also recommends more research on a promising alternative approach to providing links between crime-scene evidence and the original weapon. "Microstamping" etches or engraves unique markings -- such as an alphanumeric code -- on gun parts, which in turn generate unique marks on spent cartridge cases; microstamped marks could also be applied to individual pieces of ammunition. These marks could be rapidly examined at crime scenes using equipment as simple as a magnifying glass. However, more in-depth studies are needed on the durability of microstamped marks under various firing conditions and their susceptibility to tampering, as well as on their cost impact for manufacturers and consumers. California recently passed a law to require microstamping on internal parts of new semiautomatic pistols sold in the state by 2010.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.
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bossy22 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-05-08 02:01 PM
Response to Original message
1. In NY
they have had that database for pistols and i think it has been used successfully twice in the last 10 years.

I disagree with their statement about microstamping- it can be easily subverted and the procedure for doing this is so easy a 5 year old with a peice of sand paper could do it. Many members down in the gungeon have specific articles on how a microstamp can be altererd.
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bossy22 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-05-08 02:05 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. in actuality
even the ATF's crime gun database is not as useful as it is made out to be....with a peice of rough paper you can alter the markings that a gun would make on a bullet, just push it down the barrel and viola, the bullets wouldnt match.
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Sam Ervin jret Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-05-08 02:14 PM
Response to Reply #1
3. The more they "think" they "know" the more innocent people in jail
science is a very strong weapon in a court room. it must be PROVEN effective and then PROVEN correct again each time it is used for it to be used correctly. Too often the court room is filled with faulty science and people without the science base or the resources to question it. You add to that the public acceptance of a technique and you get too many false positives.

This technique has that possibility written all over it. Not to mention the waste of money that could be spent on other things that might work.
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krispos42 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-05-08 02:49 PM
Response to Original message
4. And the only way this works in practice...
... is if all guns and/or ammunition is registred and put in a federal database. Otherwise, being able to look at a bullet or casing and know the make, model, and serial number of the gun that fired it isn't much help. You can trace it back to the point-of-sale and the original owner, but that's it.

Ballistic matching is good for testing to see if a weapon found during the investigation of a crime is the right one. You have a chain of evidence and deductive reasoning that leads to a firearm that at least has a good probability of being related to crime.

Man is found dead a day after beating his wife. Weapon was a 9mm Glock. Wife's brother owns a 9mm Glock. Therefore, find and test brother's Glock. If it matches, then there's a damn good chance it's the murder weapon.

This is besides the issue of increasing the number and scope of federal databases. A strong case could be made for registering computers, for example, to track down and punish identity thiefs, stalkers, and sexual predators. Or CD-Rs and DVD-Rs, because of the billions of dollars lost in software and multimedia piracy. How about the serial numbers of all of the money to take out of an ATM go to a federal database?
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jody Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-05-08 05:28 PM
Response to Original message
5. Kennedy introduced S.2605 to micro-stamp semiautomatic pistols, Feinstein, Schumer et al cosponsors
S.2605 Title: A bill to require certain semiautomatic pistols manufactured, imported, or sold by Federal firearms licensees to be capable of microstamping ammunition.
Sponsor: Sen Kennedy, Edward M. (introduced 2/7/2008)
Sen Durbin, Richard - 2/11/2008
Sen Feinstein, Dianne - 2/11/2008
Sen Lautenberg, Frank R. - 2/11/2008
Sen Menendez, Robert - 2/11/2008
Sen Reed, Jack - 2/11/2008
Sen Schumer, Charles E. - 2/11/2008
Sen Whitehouse, Sheldon - 2/11/2008

With friends like the sponsors of S.2605, a Dem candidate will have to fight the gun-grabber image if any of the bill sponsors endorse her/him.

Wait, they already have endorsed BO & Hillary!
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slackmaster Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-05-08 05:56 PM
Response to Original message
6. Data point regarding the MD and NY ballistic databases
Neither state has ever, to my knowledge, ever successfully used ballistic fingerprint data in a crime investigation.
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