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Shell-Casing Shell Games

Friday, November 13, 2015

Shell-Casing Shell Games

Carnival-goers are familiar with the shell game, a swindle in which a ball is hidden under one of three or more “shells” and shuffled by the operator. The rube wagers on which of the “shells” holds the ball, and if the guess is wrong, the gambler can throw more money away on another try.  

For years, politicians in Maryland have been funding a “ballistic fingerprinting” program, the Maryland Integrated Ballistics Identification System (MD-IBIS), only to repeal the authorizing law this year after an estimated $5 million had been spent, all without a single crime having been solved through the database.

The Maryland law, enacted as the Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000, was one of the first to require that all new handguns be “ballistically fingerprinted” before they could be legally sold in the state. Gun manufacturers were required to test-fire every gun and have the spent bullet casing specially packaged. This was forwarded to state authorities when the gun was sold so the state could create a database of “ballistic fingerprints” to link firearms with gun crimes.

As predicted by the NRA thirteen years ago, the program was a costly and complete failure. A 2014 report by the Maryland State Police (MSP) Forensic Sciences Division reveals that “the Maryland ballistic imaging database failed to function as designed. As a result, imaging was ceased in April 2007 and permanently abandoned in 2008.” The imaging database itself is “inactive.”

This isn’t particularly surprising. A Maryland State Police progress report on the ballistic imaging program ten years earlier had already confirmed that “[c]ontinuing problems include the failure of the MD-IBIS to provide any meaningful hits,” that the “cost per hit value” was $427,939, and that “no crime investigations …[had] been enhanced or expedited” through the use of the database. The report recommended that the program be discontinued and the law repealed.

Even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the architect of the so-called SAFE Act (which he repeatedly describes as the strongest gun-control law in the country), pulled the plug on New York State’s ballistic fingerprinting program, the Combined Ballistics Identification System (CoBIS), in 2012. Underscoring the lack of a demonstrated benefit to law enforcement, a Cuomo spokesman reportedly commented, “We are ending a program that doesn’t solve crimes or make our streets safe.” No doubt the price tag was an issue, too, given that the cost was estimated as anywhere between $1.2 million a year to $40 million in total–money that could have been used for reality-based solutions to combat crime.

Despite the lack of any law enforcement value and the staggering costs to taxpayers, these and other laws –“microstamping,” “assault weapon” bans, “universal” background checks – continue to be pushed by gun-control groups in the name of “common-sense measures” to address "gun violence."

Experience suggests such proposals will do nothing apart from fleece taxpayers and unfairly burden law-abiding firearms manufacturers, retailers, and gun owners. After all, there seems to be nothing to show for the Maryland project except, perhaps, the 340,000 shell casings taking up three rooms of the State Police headquarters.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.