Will lives be saved by this mandate? How will this new law improve public safety, if at all? Is another gun law really required now? Does the Constitution matter? Can the required data effectively be printed on pistols and cartridges? What does the research show? Is the microstamping process technically developed enough to permit this? Is this an overkill, especially requiring this imprint in two places on each handgun? Will this prevent hunters, recreational shooters, and others from buying new guns with improved features and safeties? Will other states, including your state, require this as well? Certainly criminals will buy new handguns imprinted with the required marks to commit their crimes…. or will they? Certainly, they would not tamper with the marks… or would they? Should law enforcement agencies be exempt? Should anyone be exempt from the requirement? Legislators? Well, legislators in California have spoken. In 2007, California Assembly Bill 1471 was passed and signed into law requiring microstamping on internal parts of new semiautomatic pistols. Will revolvers be involved soon? The legislation provided that this requirement would only became effective if the California Department of Justice certified that the microstamping technology is available to more than one manufacturer unencumbered by patent restrictions. The California legislature subsequently reorganized certain statutes concerning the regulation of firearms, including the microstamping law in 2010. On May 17, 2013, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris provided such certification and it is now effective.
What is microstamping. Briefly, it is a patented process that micro-laser engraves a unique alpha-numeric code with specific gun information on the tip of a gun’s firing pin and or other gun parts so that, theoretically, it imprints the information on fired cartridge cases. The process would have to be optimized for each model of firearm made by all manufacturers, a costly and time-consuming process that threatens the employment of thousands in the firearms industry, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The many different types of ammo and coatings would also complicate this process and readability of marks.
Under this law, firearms manufacturers would have to micro laser-engrave a gun’s make, model and serial number on the interior surface or internal working parts of two distinct parts of a pistol, including the firing pin, so that, in theory, this information would be transferred and imprinted on the cartridge casing when the pistol is fired. Violators are subject to prosecution with California Penal Code Section 31910, subdivision (b)(7)(a). Further, a semiautomatic pistol not already listed on the legislature-approved firearm roster is an “unsafe” handgun unless it is “designed and equipped with a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the pistol etched or otherwise imprinted in two or more places on the interior surface or internal working parts of the pistol, and that are transferred by imprinting on each cartridge case when the pistol is fired.” This is the microstamping mandate.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) filed a lawsuit on January 9, 2014 on behalf of their members against the State of California in Fresno Superior Court challenging the state’s microstamping law. NSSF and SAAMI seek to invalidate and enjoin enforcement of provisions of state law enacted in 2007, but not made effective until May 2013, requiring that all semiautomatic pistols sold in the state not already on the California approved handgun roster contain unproven and unreliable microstamping technology. We will have to wait and see the answers to many of the questions.
Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel commented “There is no existing microstamping technology that will reliably, consistently and legibly imprint the required identifying information by a semiautomatic handgun on the ammunition it fires. The holder of the patent for this technology himself has written that there are problems with it and that further study is warranted before it is mandated. A National Academy of Science review, forensic firearms examiners and a University of California at Davis study reached the same conclusion and the technical experts in the firearms industry agree.” “Manufacturers can not comply with a law the provisions of which are invalid, that cannot be enforced and that will not contribute to improving public safety. As a result, we are seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief against this back-door attempt to prevent the sale of new semiautomatic handguns to law-abiding citizens in California.”
Todd Lizotte, the inventor of the firearm microstamping technology, stated in a Winter, 2013 article that
“it is apparent that legitimate questions exist related both to the technical aspects, production costs, and database management associated with microstamping that should be addressed before wide scale implementation is legislatively mandated.” Further, he stated “complete recognition is still not possible in all cases” and independent firearms examiners confirmed Mr. Lizotte’s findings. Dr. David Howitt, Frederic Tulleners and Michael Beddow of the Forensic Science Graduate Group at the University of California at Davis stated that “because its forensic potential has yet to be fully assessed, a mandate for the implementation of this technology in all new semi-automatic handguns sold in the State of California is counter-indicated.”
George Krivosta of the New York Crime Laboratory said that research has shown and he stated that “the weapon producing the highest percentage of readable impressions was incapable of firing three shots in a row.” He brings up the reliability and durability of the marks, their susceptibility of tampering, and associated costs.
There are other comments and concerns about the required process:
- Stamped casings can only be traced to the last registered owner, not the shooter who used the gun;
- Bad guys/gals could pickup spent brass from a firing range and leave them at their crime scene as false evidence;
- A readily-available and inexpensive file can be used to file off the marks and make them unreadable or alter them;
- Firing pins and certain parts can easily be replaced on guns;
- Firing many rounds wears down the microstamping marks and information, making them unreadable or misinterpreted; and
- More independent research and scientific testing are needed for valid and reliable use of the process.
A lot of variables and concerns to think about. Many influencing factors exist. What are our goals and priorities as a society? What are your goals and priorities? What positive actions will you take to improve the current state of affairs? What are your thoughts about this mandated process for guns?