Gun control laws frequently require the use of technology by law enforcement, as well as placing requirements on manufacturers and, ultimately, the consumer. Are these effective? Since I live in California I will focus on local laws, the #1 state for the Brady Campaign.
Registration – Many states, including California, require gun registration, most often just for handguns. There are several problems with registration. Who must register? Who maintains the records? How to handle private sales or transfers? How to handle lost/stolen weapons? The main problem is the thousands of hours of administrative burden. And what are the real benefits? Professor John Lott found that in Chicago and Washington D.C., there have been no crimes where tracing a gun back to the registered owner was instrumental in identifying someone involved in a crime. (“Gun Licensing Leads to Increased Crime, Lost Lives”, L.A. Times, Aug 23, 2000). And there is always the question if the lists of gun registrations could be used later for confiscation. If you do not think guns will be seized from lawful gun owners without just cause, just look at the fiasco in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Child Access Prevention – This is basically a requirement for “child proof” trigger locks to be sold with each gun. California requires these with each gun purchase. While not a bad idea, in theory, the reality is less than ideal. One of the major problems with the DC gun laws is that lawful weapons (rifles and shotguns) had to be disassembled or equipped with trigger locks. This makes the weapon less than effective for home defense as you have to fumble to unlock/assemble the weapon, load it, and then you are ready to use it for the emergency in progress. And they do not prevent opening without a key/combination. “The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) tested 32 gun locks - 16 trigger locks and 16 cable locks - and found that all but two models can be opened without a key.” (CPSC Video script, Press Release # 01-078, August 12, 2002).
Large Capacity Magazines – This puts a limit on the number of rounds per magazine in magazine fed weapons. As an example, California allows no more than 10-round magazines. The theory is this will limit the number of rounds some crazed idiot can fire without having to reload. My Beretta 92FS Vertec is designed to accommodate a 15 round magazine. The magazines shipped with the pistol have a crimp in them that limits it to holding 10 rounds. So what? It takes less than 2 seconds to pop out a magazine and insert another. This is a useless law. I saw a remarkable demonstration in a History Channel program, “Extreme Marksmen.” Jerry Miculek used a six-shot revolver for one of his exhibitions. He fired at a target 30 feet away and placed 12 rounds on target in less than 3 seconds, blindfolded. That means he fired six rounds blindfolded and hit the target each time, reloaded blindfolded, and hit the target six more times while still blindfolded - in under 3 seconds. Who needs large capacity maazines if you know what you are doing?
Microstamping - This is a new technology that is not in commercial use today. Basically a unique serial number is engraved in the firing pin of each pistol. This serial number is then imprinted on the primer of the bullet casing, or in some instances on the cartridge, when the gun is fired. Unfortunately, California has already passed a law requiring use of the technology by all manufacturers who sell firearms in California. This new law will go into effect in 2010.
It is surprising (or not since the Brady Campaign rates California best) this law passed when the technology was tested by the University of California, Davis, and found lacking. Their original press release on May 3, 2007, was titled (emphasis added) Microstamping Guns Feasible but Flawed, Study Finds. The first paragraph stated (emphasis added):
“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 at UC Davis. More testing in a wider range of firearms is needed to determine the costs and feasibility of a statewide program of microstamping, as called for by proposed state legislation, the researchers said.”
Sounds like microstamping is not ready to me.
Their press release was updated on May 13; new title: “Firearms Microstamping Feasible but Variable, Study Finds”. And the first paragraph says (emphasis added):
“New technology to link cartridge cases to guns by engraving microscopic codes on the firing pin is feasible, but did not work equally well for all guns and ammunition tested in a pilot study by researchers from the forensic science program at the University of California, Davis. More testing in a wider range of firearms is needed, the researchers said.”
So they softened their position. /sarcasm mode on/ I am sure it was not because they were funded by a California Congressional Committee who wanted to pass the law to require the use of the technology /sarcasm mode off/. Still sounds like microstamping is not ready to me.
In addition, there are major flaws in the use of this as evidence. Spent cartridges are often left at a range, a criminal could collect these and leave them at a crime scene to divert suspicion. The microstamps on firing pins can be easily removed with a nail file. Firing pins can be exchanged easily. Given the expensive failure of ballistic fingerprinting should we add another layer of useless expense?
Both states recognize this is yet-to-be-developed technology and currently requires the Attorney General to monitor and report on the progress in the technology with an eye to pre-authorize a mandate to use it immediately upon availability. Aside from the fact of venturing into pre-legislating “future” laws, the technology itself is silly today. Biometrics for computers and security devices are still largely experimental and can be circumvented.
This is another farce that will only increase the expense of producing cost effective civilian firearms. Particularly since the California Governor is “Governator Schwarzenegger,” I am surprised they did not ban civilian ownership of a “phased-plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.” (If you do not get the reference, watch “The Terminator” again.)