Read This And Think About It

submitted by Vikki Nelson

The NRA (National Rifle Association) received permission to print this and so I pass it on to you.

Grand Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police, 309 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Washington D.C. 20002

F.O.P. Viewpoint:

Ballistics Imaging and Comparison Technology

Ballistics imaging and comparison technology, which electronically records and compares the marks or impressions on the cartridge case and projectile of a round of ammunition fired from a handgun or rifle, is an important law enforcement tool. However, like most tools, its use is limited by circumstance and the peculiarities of a specific investigation.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) maintains a National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which is restricted to the ballistic imaging of date associated with crime guns. This has proved to be very effective to investigators, enabling them to link multiple shootings in which the same firearm was used, as is the current case with the serial sniper operating in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and to definitively connect recovered firearms to a particular shooting and/or crime.

We must keep in mind that there are limits to the utility of this information with respect to investigating firearms crime and prosecuting criminals who use guns. For instance, in all cases, it is necessary that investigators recover a bullet or shell casing from the crime scene which is intact enough to allow forensic analysis to be able to identify the ballistic markings. The firearm must then be recovered in order for the gun and the bullet or shell casing to be conclusively linked. Thus, this tool is often just as useful for excluding potential suspects as identifying those already in custody.

In order to make a case, investigators must discover a chain of evidence: an intact bullet or shell case needs to be recovered from the crime scene, then linked to a gun and then the gun linked to a shooter. Ballistics imaging and comparison technology is very limited in accomplishing the latter.

In the wake of the serial shootings in the Washington, D.C. area there has been a renewed call for a ballistics “ fingerprint” database. The F.O.P. believes that several questions must be answered. First, since ballistic imprints, unlike fingerprints and DNA, can be altered, either deliberately or simply through normal use, how will we ensure the validity of the findings? Second, how would such a database be compiled and what would be the cost to create and maintain it? The F.O.P. does not support any Federal requirement to register privately owned firearms with the Federal government. Without Federally-mandated registration of the more than 200 million firearms in the U.S. today, such a database would be no more effective than the current NIBIN maintained by ATF. And even if such a database is limited to firearms manufactured in the future, the cost to create and maintain such a system, with such small chances that it would be used to solve a firearm crime, suggests to the F.O.P. that these are law enforcement dollars best spent elsewhere.

The F.O.P. supports the concept of ballistic fingerprinting and considers it a valuable law enforcement tool. We look forward to finding the means to bring this technology to bear on fighting gun crime in the most effective way possible. But there are limits to technology, especially in a free society. Like other technological breakthroughs achieved in the last 25 years, they can be invaluable to State and Local law enforcement officers as they endeavor to solve horrific crimes, but that being, this technology is a tool only, and not a substitute for good, solid boots-on-the-ground police work.

The F.O.P. certainly supports greater study of this issue, so as to learn how better to employ the technology we possess to help solve and prevent crimes. But, prior to embracing a database of ballistic “fingerprints” as a revolutionary advancement in law enforcement technology, we would be wise to study its efficacy in the field with a view to reaching a supportable conclusion as to how, and under what legal circumstances, we can best use this very promising tool.

It’s a lot of words to end up saying it won’t work. Thank you F.O.P.