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3/31/2009 10:11:00 AM
First shots fired over handgun microstamping in Wisconsin
Study calls for more testing of “feasible but flawed” technology

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

Two Wisconsin lawmakers and the National Rifle Association hoisted red flags this week over what they say is a coming legislative proposal to mandate so-called handgun microstamping in Wisconsin.

The goal of microstamping is to track a firearm from spent bullets by etching the gun's make, model, and serial number on the weapon's firing pin, which would copy that information to the cartridge when the gun was fired.

Proponents say microstamping is a dependable, low-cost technology that gives law enforcement an added public-safety tool, allowing them to trace a gun from spent shells left at a crime scene; opponents say it is an unproven technology pushed by anti-gun advocates whose real motives are to drive up the cost of firearm ownership.

As of Friday morning, no legislation had been introduced.

However, the National Rifle Association, state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and state Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) all reported that two Milwaukee Democrats, Sen. Spencer Coggs and Leon Young, were circulating a measure for sponsorship.

Under the proposal, according to the National Rifle Association, it would be illegal to sell or transfer any new semi-automatic pistol not capable of microstamping a cartridge case upon firing.

Citing the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute, Grothman and Suder said the legislation would drive up the price of a handgun by as much as $200 and was nothing more than an unfair tax.

The measure, they said in a release, would force responsible gun owners to help pay for investigations into crimes they didn't commit.

"This bill reeks of hypocrisy," Suder said. "We don't charge a tire tax to look into hit-and-run drivers, and we don't charge restaurants more for their knives just because knives are sometimes used to stab people."

Grothman said the technology was easily defeated with household tools - allowing engraved pins to be replaced with unmarked ones - and that, since the engraving was on the cartridge and not the bullet, criminals could simply pick up the evidence and walk away.

For both reasons, he said, the cost was not acceptable.

"The real motive of this proposal is clear - to prevent people from owning guns," Grothman said. "But because that would not be politically viable at this time, the hard left will try to start by keeping guns out of the hands of the poor and the most vulnerable citizens. Founding father George Mason said the best way to enslave people is to disarm them, and that is the way our country is going."

Wisconsin is not alone in the microstamping debate. Similar proposals have been introduced in a number of states and actually enacted in California in 2007, even after a 2006 University of California (Davis) study concluded the legislation was premature.

The California microstamping law takes effect in 2010; law enforcement will be specifically exempt.

On the federal level, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced a bill last year to require microstamping in all new handguns. Then Sen. Barack Obama supported the measure.

Claims, counterclaims, science

Both sides have marshaled their arguments for the coming debate.

Proponents say microstamping enables law enforcement to do what it often can't now - match fired cartridges to, at the very least, the last registered owner of the gun from which the cartridge came. Proponents also tout the technology as a way to track the illegal trade of guns.

What's more, microstamping firms dispute the high cost of installing the technology.

Opponents have their own claims, in addition to the cost and the easy ability to defeat the technology (using diamond-coated files to remove the microstamping, for instance). They say firing pins are replaceable, and firing a large number of rounds will wear down the engraved markings.

In addition, they contend, microstamping cannot be implemented for revolvers that do not eject shell casings, limiting the value of the technology.

Finally, they argue, the technology has not been sufficiently tested.

At least two studies support that latter claim. In March 2008, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies of Science, called microstamping a "promising" approach but one that nonetheless needed more study, particularly concerning the durability of the microstamps themselves.

The 2006 study at the University of California (Davis) concluded the technology was feasible but variable.

"New technology to link cartridge cases to guns by engraving microscopic codes on the firing pin is feasible, but does not work well for all guns and ammunition tested in a pilot study by researchers from the forensic science program," the university stated in announcing the findings.

More testing in a wider range of firearms was needed, the researchers observed.

"Our study confirms the NRC position that more research should be conducted on this technology," Fred Tulleners, director of the forensic science graduate program at UC Davis, said.

Tulleners is a former director of the California Department of Justice crime labs in Sacramento and Santa Rosa.

In the study, UC Davis graduate student Michael Beddow tested firing pins from six different brands of semi-automatic handguns, two semi-automatic rifles and a shotgun, the university stated. After firing about 2,500 rounds, the letter/number codes on the face of the firing pins were still legible with some signs of wear, though bar codes and dot codes around the edge of the pins were badly worn, officials stated.

Tests on other guns, including .22, .380 and .40-caliber handguns, two semi-automatic rifles and a pump-action shotgun, showed a wide range of results depending on the weapon, the ammunition used and the type of code examined, according to the researchers.

David Howitt, professor of chemical engineering and materials science and chair of the Graduate Group in Forensic Science at UC Davis, supervised the project.

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, April 26, 2010
Article comment by: Roger Meier

I really don't want to go to jail or death row because of an error in microchip

Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2009
Article comment by: Ms. Borman

I see Todd Lizotte has commented in favor of microstamping. One has to look at the reasoning behind his support of this legislation.

Mr. Lizotte and Orest Ohar own the only patent for technology capable of microstamping. He has said that he will give this away royalty free (I guess we'll just have to trust him), but has been quite silent about the machines and processes capable of interpreting said information which he also owns the only patent for.

This is nothing more than a government sanctioned monopoly in which Mr. Lizotte doesn't have to worry about pesky things like competition and the free market. If the government says "you have to microstamp" you have only one choice for who to turn to for the technology, and that wold be Mr. Lizotte.

Keep in mind we will all be paying for the creation and upkeep of all of the databases with our tax dollars. Apparently Mr. Lizotte doesn't care if the state of WI is put into more debt as long as it serves his desires to have a worry free income. Why should he care about the state of WI's financial crisis, he's not a WI citizen, he's from New Hampshire.

Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Article comment by: Jeff Jordan

All these efforts are attempts by politicians to disarm law abiding citizens or make it impossible to afford gun ownership. Politicians fear implementing more socialistic policy when people who believe and support our Constitution will fight to keep it in force. They want the guns taken away, plain and simple. If this ever happens, were all lost.

Posted: Sunday, April 5, 2009
Article comment by: leonard

Micro stamping is very easy to defeat. Routine accuratising polishes the bolt face to remove imperfections, like micro stampings. Also bolts and firing pins can be easily replaced. Tracing will only get to the point where the firearm was stolen, it will never lead to a criminal as the criminal doesn't buy from a gun dealer.

Posted: Saturday, April 4, 2009
Article comment by: Todd Lizotte

The point of microstamping is identifying the firearm when a firearm is not recovered from a crime scene. That is what happens most of the time. The key is to target straw purchasers. It is a passive and benign technology. There is no new database required for microstamping and no registration required. All the data is held at the firearm manufacturers facility. As far as trace info, the same ATF protocol has to be used. the idea is to generate more trace data to form patterns, which indicate specific trafficking activities. When patterns can be identified it is easier for local and state law enforcement to disrupt these networks. All it does is help law enforcement.

Also, the technology is provided royalty free to the firearm industry for the domestic market, so no royalty cost adders for gun owners.

Furthermore, this will negate the need for ammo serialization, assault weapons bans and registration.

Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009
Article comment by: Eli

Boy your right, I'm sure no one could hide behind a name like Clark Kent! Taxing firearms is not the point, unnecessarily and irresponsibly taxing them out of the hands or law abiding citizens is the point! You're right in that new firearms are registered and traced in WI, but private sales are not. Law abiding citizens have everything to worry about and lose because they are the only ones actually following the law. Maybe instead of belittling people to make himself feel more important Clark Kent (Scott) could explain how more firearm restrictions could actually benfit any law abiding citizen. The current laws are more than sufficient if properly enforced. By the way, I do live in the "sticks" and you can bet my narrow mind will never "cry for gun laws", I will be protecting myself with my legally owned firearms!

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Article comment by: Clark Kent

Have to love the Names Frank Castle if it is really your thoughts use your real name and don't hide behind e-mailed comments, we as a state put huge taxes on things like cigarettes and gas so whats wrong with taxing a firearm...nothing get over yourself. For those of you who don't know anything and just type to see yourself on online once a new firearm is sold in WI the ATF has a form filled out that lists the gun and who purchased it..that my friends is how it is traced...law abiding gun owners have nothing to worry about because they hardly tranfers weapons to joe the rag man to be used in a crime so wise up and grow a spine country boy and girls because once they realize there are easy pickin's in the sticks they'll come out there to rob you and then you'll cry for gun laws move out of your narrow minded world and into 2009.
By the way my name is Scott and I own a bunch of guns and this doesn't bother a bit because I don't intend to commit crimes but if those guns were stolen and used in crimes I would like to know and so would the Police.

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Article comment by: John R. O'Connor

According to the "Law of Unintended Consequences" all the gangbangers will do is begin using revolvers which do not eject a shell casing after each shot, and voila, for them the problem is solved.

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Article comment by: frank castle

This is more stupid B.S. from the politicians who want to “feel good” about their do nothing history in dealing W/ crime. “pass this law – any panic law” that restricts the rights of honest citizens, but God forbid – don’t trample the criminal’s rights to kill, rape, ravage, pillage, stomp, devour, destroy, hack, smash, crash, and bash their victims. Governor “Popeye” Doyle ought to be dancing in the blood of the victims when he supports this nonsense – and he still supports the racist denial of CCW – only two states in the USA where only the crooks and the cops can carry guns. Go figure!

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Article comment by: Arch Stanton

This technology, even if possible and cheap, only traces registered firearms. Most states do not register firearms, including Wisconsin. Worthless!

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Article comment by: engineer

Another way for the law abiding over taxed citizen to be controlled.

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Article comment by: Steve Kaempf

I think too much attention is being spent on messures that likely will only affect law abiding gun owners. If they would bring real punishment to those who commit crimes with guns and worked to enforce the laws that are already on the books, it would make a difference. I am quite tired of the innocent taking the heat for criminals that can seem to find and endless supply of guns that is much like the supply of illegal drugs. All the efforts the government spends trying to take drugs off the street seems to do little good. I think this measures will solve very little when dealing with criminals who use guns. I think our government should spend more time fixing our economy and less time on gun owners. Our government has spent enough money on other things and should fix more valid problems.

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Article comment by: checktheMoney

Please check into where this technology is coming from. Who is getting the wealth from this process.
Next question.. What happens if I fire 5000 rounds and wear the numbers off? I commit no crimes.
Once again the lawful are being punished. Solution is to go after the criminal and get them off the street.
The entire idea is a grand money grab by the stampers.

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Article comment by: Tony Sciurba

These lawmakers have nothing better to do with their time than to try and take more rights away from honest citizens. Instead of public servants, these are Nazi wannabes.

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Article comment by: Gary Mason

More harassment of law biding gun owners to cover up failed social programs in Milwaukee and other city's that Democrats control

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Article comment by: C. DAAL

How do these people get in office ?? the Voter !!!

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Article comment by: john

so we go through all this and the bad guys just make sure they pick up their brass.. or use a revolver instead of a semi. This has nothing to do with police investigations.

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Article comment by: Charles Petrik

I find this an INSULT to the American people. Why? I, and MANY others have told law enforcement about felony crimes, only to be told that they (law enforcement) did NOT CARE TO INVESTIGATE THE CRIMES!!!
I know the true history about who is to blame for school shootings and can pass a polygraph to prove it, yet NO ONE WANTS THE TRUTH TO COME OUT. Not the talk show hosts who PRETEND that they care, NOT the government, NOT law enforcement, and NOT the schools!!!
California is pushing this gun microstamping, yet it is California that allowed Roman Polanski to arrange to have Charles Manson to KILL MANY PEOPLE, without being punished. NOW California is allowing Roman Polanski to cover-up the fact that he did MOLEST CHILDREN AND WAS TRYING TO LEGALIZE SEX WITH CHILDREN, back in 1977, when he was on trial! And it is California that covered up the fact that Woody ALlen and Jack Nicholson ALSO Molested children at the party that Polanski was arrested and THEIR CRIMES WERE COVERED UP!!!
EVERY TIME I TURN AROUND IT IS CALIFORNIA THAT IS COVERING UP MAJOR FELONIES!! Thay only want laws used to arrest the poor and non celebrities of the world!!!

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Article comment by: Ken McDonald

What's to prevent a criminal from picking up spent cartridges at a firing range or some other place and leaving them at the crime scene?

Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Article comment by: Cindy

Whatever is legal to be used by police, should be legal to be used by private citizens. So, if law-makers want microstamping, why wouldn't they start by arming our policemen with such guns. It may become a viable option then for common population after a few years / decades.

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