Sunday, October 14, 2007

A new weapon to fight gun crime

So, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed off on the "microstamping bill". The legal definition revolve on what is considered an "unsafe" weapon. Essentially, it means that from now on, all newly manufactured semiautomatic handguns intended for sale will need to be made in such a way that the spent cartridge casings will have the serial number of the gun engraved onto them.

I tried to make my point in this entry from august 31, explaining what I perceive as flaws in this new technology, flaws which I hope will be dealt with. I have to be honest with myself and my audience, there is nothing I loathe more than people continuously pushing plans that have been tried and which have failed.

But microstamping is new, it has not been tried.
Could it work?

I projected that it could be helpful in a very limited amount of cases, as I focused on actually capturing criminals, but somebody claiming to be Todd Lizotte, one of the major designers of the microstamping technology, left a comment on my previous post. The last portion of this post mentions that criminals don't intend to let the law, be it armed with microstamping legislation or not, catch up with them.

Toddlizotte had the following to say:

"I do believe microstamping can help, however I will admit, I am bias to some degree, my point though is how law enforcement uses information to target handgun trafficking networks.
The FBI and ATF have developed ways of analyzing certain criminal enterprises by the patterns they form when they engage in criminal behavior. The critical element to defining these patterns and analyzing them is good INTEL or “real-time” data.

The FBI states that through their work, criminal enterprises or gangs are creatures of habit, and they often establish specific patterns in their activities. For firearm trafficking, this means they might prefer a certain type of straw purchaser, a specific source location or licensee, or a favorite method of distribution. Such patterns can be found through analysis of data; the problem is the current data is acquired when the firearm is recovered, instead of when the firearm is first used.
Firearm trafficking becomes vulnerable to these new techniques, link analysis and social network analysis, when an analysis of the data can form into patterns within a narrower window of time.
So, when trying to find unique ways of getting law enforcement the information they need to combat trafficking, while maintaining the rights of law abiding gun owners, it seems possible, microstamping will strike that balance.
Best regards,

His full comments can be found here.

It would appear that I have trapped myself; in spite of my disbelief in this technology, I will maintain two arguements in its favour.First I will give it the benefit of the doubt, we should allow it to fail along with all the previous golden bullet techniques that have passed by and passed away.
Second: pattern recognition is everything, if not William Gibsons best book. As a scientist I have a near religious devotion to find and isolate logical, predictable patterns. If that's what this law is really about, then I will support it on that front.

I still have other issues with this new legislation though. I still do not believe that this legislation will help put individual criminals in jail any better than a well funded homicide branch would. I resent the idea that law enforcement officers would still be walking about with guns deemed unsafe by state law, civil suits ensue?
Last but not least, what are the implementation costs? I couldn't find one when this technology was brought up, and nobody seems to worry too much about it now either.

Oh well, I'm off to invest in Oregon and Texan companies specialized in spare parts for selfoading handguns, cheers Herr Terminegger!


Anonymous said...

Hello my name is Todd Lizotte and I am the co-inventor of microstamping.

I figured I could give some more insight into the technology. Once again I am bias, technologist tend to treat their ideas like their kids, always want them to succeed and flurish. So, I appreciate when people can provide feedback and some serious well researched skepticism.

So first, the Microstamping technique is simple. A firearm currently has small microstructures which are formed onto the interior surfaces of the firearm that come in contact with the cartridge, when the firearm is discharged. They are termed unintentional microstructures, since they are randomly formed when the surfaces of the firearm are machined during the actual manufacture of the firearm.

These random tooling microstructures transfer to the cartridges and form the basis of the science of forensic firearm identification, which is the science of matching these scratches and dings extracted from the cartridges found at a crime scene to the firearm if it is recovered.

When applying Microstamping to a firearm, first we identify the surfaces within the firearm that transfer the unintentional marks and then use a laser process to create intentional microstructures that take the form of numbers and letters to form an 8 digit code or geometric codes or encoded geometric codes. The idea is to allow the firearm to retain both the unintentional and intentional microstructures.

I am not going into detail on what an encoded geometric code is, however I will state that if someone attempted to file off the code and left only 5% of the original encoded surface, that 5%will still retain 100% of the actual code.

The Microstamping technique uses the same forces that produce the unintentional marks, so that the “status quo” is maintained, no new mechanisms are needed, we just use the forces and surfaces that currently produce markings onto the cartridge. No changes to the firearms function.

The cost is minimal, ranging from between 25 cents to $3, depending on volume. A small firearm manufacturer can go to one of the laser job-shops we licensed and get a set of 100 pins and slides processed for approximately $300.00. You need to figure large manufacturers are dealing in 50,000 unit volumes.


Another argument I have seen is that microstamping could create a deterrent and shift criminals from semi-auto handguns to revolvers. In essence this would mean a shift or reduction of a criminal’s effective firepower.

Plainly speaking firepower is the amount of damage you can cause within a given time frame. However, effective firepower is a combination of variables including the type of firearm, the ammunition, and most importantly the gun handling skill of the shooter.

Firing a revolver accurately takes more skill than a semi-auto handgun. And when you have no skill at all in firing, odds are you are going to be limited in the damage you can cause.
Another point is revolvers are “dual action”; the criminal has to pull the trigger fully for each round fired where as semi-auto are typically single action firearms.

Most drive by shootings cause death by the fact that a hail of bullets is fired randomly within seconds and reloading is easy by exchanging a magazine.

What is good about microstamping is that AB1471 targets the growing use of semi-automatic handguns used to commit crimes. Microstamping makes sense for that segment and if it creates a shift to revolvers, knives or baseball bats, that shift will at least give potential victims a fighting chance or possibly limit the chance of innocent people becoming victims of stray bullets.


Forensic investigators use crime scene reconstruction methods to analyze various patterns; scene evidence and projectile trajectories are used to track back to the firing location and to match projectile location to cartridge location, i.e. cartridge ejection patterns. Projectile locations have a specific location and an angular trajectory (They can show movement of the shooter, angle and elevation of the firearm), so it is possible to match the two patterns.

In an exchange of gun fire; the criminal is firing the handgun and potentially moving at the same time. These actions are mirrored in the pattern of the cartridge casings being ejected. If the person then randomly drops or plants cartridges, those dropped cartridges would not follow the pattern that occurred during the actual action.

A common criminal who commits a murder or engages in a fire fight, is not going to be in the right frame of mind to take into consideration these types of ideas. Fight or flight response takes over.

The other big issue with the dropped/planted cartridge scenario is that the physical evidence is analyzed; powder or gun shot residue (its type, age, and oxidation), oxidation of the cartridges themselves (fresh versus old), finger-prints on the cartridges, odd things (cartridge with pocket lint, dirt, fingerprints, odd primers, reload status) and the standard ballistic markings on the cartridge (ejector marks, extractor marks, firing pin marks). Most forensic professional tend to laugh at these ideas. People who comment on these scenarios figure highly trained forensic examiners can’t tell a freshly fired cartridge from one that has been sitting on a firing range for a few weeks or months.

This scenario also requires that the criminal can locate a firing range, find the right caliber cartridge of the same vintage, make, fired from the same firearm that they own.
If the criminal reloads, they will need to use a similar powder and projectile consistent with that ammo and the same primer. This is a tall order for the common criminal who truly cares less about these issues, since in their mind they will never get caught.

The planted cartridge scenario is not realistic for nearly all gang or moment of opportunity based heinous acts or crimes.

Another point is that planted cartridges have a history and by planting them at a crime scene the criminal is just leaving more leads to follow. Maybe those planted cartridges will lead to the place where the cartridges were taken, maybe that range has video taping system (most do these days for liability), or requires people to show drivers license and sign a form to enter the range area.

By planting cartridges at the crime scene the criminal is providing further opportunities to recover good finger prints and law enforcement can use other data and network information to track the person down since most people who commit these types of crimes tend to have extensive police records and have fingerprints on file.

The fact is that planting cartridges is an interesting theory, but in reality, it doesn't happen now and modern forensic crime scene investigation methods are more than capable of overcoming this type of TV based scenario.


Microstamping is a passive device, where no registry and no bureaucracy are required. It uses the same trace system that law enforcement currently uses today and all of the info is held by the firearms industry. There is no change to the legal owner’s liability or responsibility.

One specific invariable, is if you have your firearm stolen, with or without microstamping and it is subsequently found at a crime scene, it doesn’t matter; you are getting a knock at your door.

I view this as the most benign technology possible to provide law enforcement with a new tool, while maintaining firearm owner rights.

As for the impact to the cost of a firearm, our team bought a new Ruger Mark III semi-auto 22 LR pistol about four weeks ago. It had the new California required chamber indicator as well as the lock when the magazine is removed. The price of the firearm was ~$260.00. I am not a proponent of these laws, since if you do not follow firearm safety, the indicator isn't going to help you. However, the gun lobby said those additions would double the price of a firearm as well.

If anything the increase of the cost of steel, aluminum, copper and lead over the last four years is creating a bigger impact to the manufacture of ammo and firearms.

Microstamping is a very quick laser process, no firearm structural modification required.

Hope this helps people to understand my position.

Best regards,
Todd Lizotte

lordnitrox said...

If this is trying to learn about who traffics guns, then i may support it based on that fact once more proof that it is not a "file it off" fix for gun runners. I may not be the smartest man around, yet if what you are trying to do will not change my gun in anyway; why keeps people from just buying or making their own replacements? I may not be an expert on guns, but i know there is a market for parts, and there is always going to be a pool of "clean" parts criminals can buy. Even then, they can just pick up the shell casings. The idea you have is very good on paper, however runs in to the human element.

Anonymous said...

It should be remembered that this new microstamping technology is not a crime prevention measure- the gun must first be used before police investigate the origin of the spent casings. It must also be remembered that CA is the only state requiring such technology, so criminals will continue to get guns from out of state and ship them in. Or simply steal them, just as they've been doing for years. If a gun is stolen, it doesn't matter, the imprinted shell casing will lead police to a robbery/burglary victim, not a shooter.

Anonymous said...

As an avid gun nut I can see us having bullet swapping parties to intermingle all the marked ammunition. Maybe their will be a big black market for unmarked ammo.

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