Ballistic Fingerprinting: A New Tool for Gun Opponents

by Larry Pratt
Executive Director, Gun Owners of America

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.

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

The latest weapon in the gun haters' 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 not work for a number of reasons. Probably foremost is that crooks do not use valid identification to buy guns in stores. That means the evidence chain will rarely 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 grooves in the barrel to change the signature.

Third, barrels and firing pins can be replaced, creating a 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 database of gun owners to demand surrender of the newly banned guns. This is 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 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 supporters of gun control (rightly) opposed the Patriot Act and Attorney General 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 registration.

Some proponents of keeping 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. But gun control costs lives, it does not save them.


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