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Anti-Gun Politicians, Are You Listening? NAS Says Ballistic Imaging Database "Should Not Be Established"

Friday, March 7, 2008

On March 5, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released Ballistic Imaging, the report of a committee it assigned to evaluate the feasibility, accuracy, and technical capability of a possible national database of so-called “ballistic” images from all new guns sold in the United States. 

The committee considered dozens of factors, including the uniqueness of images, the ability of imaging systems to capture images, the odds against images in a database being matched with cartridge cases and/or bullets found at crime scenes, the fact that “there is a huge existing supply of weapons and ammunition that would not be entered into the database,” and the fact that criminals can beat the system by using guns that do not leave brass at crime scenes, such as revolvers. After all was said and done, the committee concluded, “A national reference ballistic image database should not be established.” 

The committee’s chairman, John Rolph, a professor of statistics at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, additionally explained, “current technology for collecting and comparing toolmarks [left on bullets and brass cases] is not sufficiently precise in distinguishing extremely fine marks among so many images.” Among other limitations, “the type or brand of ammunition used in the initial firing of a gun would not necessarily be the same as the ammunition later used in a crime [and the] difference could be a significant source of error.” 

Instead of an imaging database, the report recommended ways to improve BATFE’s existing database of crime-related ballistic evidence, called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN. 

The good news for gun owners is that a highly regarded committee of experts, including some who are known supporters of gun control, have concluded--as NRA has been saying all along--that an image database is not necessarily capable of the crime-solving solutions its advocates have long claimed. 

On the other hand, the report also recommended research on micro-stamping of both guns and ammunition, noting that studies have not yet determined how durable micro-stamped marks are under various firing conditions, how susceptible they are to tampering, or what their cost would be for manufacturers and consumers. 

That portion of the report will likely be cited by anti-gun groups and politicians as evidence in favor of requiring that bullets and brass cases be micro-stamped with unique codes, either by the manufacturer during production (proposed in 13 states recently), or by guns mandatorily equipped with special breech faces, firing pins, or other internal parts (mandated in California last year and proposed in Congress by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in February). 

The danger, in addition to the fact that neither imaging nor micro-stamping has been proven to be able to help police solve crimes, or is in any way necessary for that purpose, is that neither could be effective without the imposition of laws that are anathema to the right to arms, such as registration of guns and ammunition to their purchasers and owners; a ban on private sales of guns and ammunition; and a ban on the manufacture, importation, sale and possession of guns from which images have not been taken, guns that do not stamp codes on fired ammunition, and ammunition that has not been stamped with a code.
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