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News & Editorials

Threat to freedom or toothless tiger?

by Dave McPhail

I'm certain you have heard about the move to require so-called "ballistic fingerprints" of a handgun before it can be sold.

Basically, what this entails is this: A firearms manufacturer will be required to send to a state agency a fired bullet and empty case from a handgun before that handgun can be sold.

Not knowing all the particulars of any one state's requirements my guess is that the make, model, type, caliber, serial number, date of manufacture, etc., must accompany the fired bullet and spent case. There are probably other specific requirements such as the case must be brass (not nickel plated), the primer must remain seated in the primer pocket, a FMJ bullet must be used (not a cast lead bullet), or the other way around or both or a combination of both.

Either way the point is that the state will, in theory, be able to match a bullet and/or spent case recovered from a crime scene with a bullet and case on file thereby enabling the state to "trace" the gun to it's owner.

(Just a side comment, I hate it when the media refers to spent rounds as "slugs" or "casings". I really hate it when DiFi calls magazines "clips". When these folks reporting on such things or the morons creating such laws are able to actually discuss things with some degree a intelligence, I might, however unlikely, be inclined to take them just a tad more seriously than I do.)

What I would like to do here is comment on one or two points about "ballistic fingerprinting." Keep in mind that this topic has already been written about by others and I'm not attempting to cover every possible point concerning "ballistic fingerprinting." Further, this is not a concise treatise on forensics or lands & grooves.

First, unless the weapon involved is a semi-auto, and unless the bad guy using the revolver is a complete idiot, who reloads and dumps his empties on the ground, there aren't going to be spent cases laying around the crime scene.

But, just for the sake of argument let's assume the bad guy is using a revolver and he does dump his empties on the ground, or, better yet, let's assume the bad guy is using a pistol. In this circumstance law enforcement personnel will probably find empty brass on the ground. In which case it may be possible to locate the person who purchased the firearm. Not a bad idea, right? Well, maybe not. The weapon may have been stolen from the original purchaser or the original purchaser may have sold it to another party. The same argument holds for any fired bullets recovered from the scene.

The chances are now growing slimmer that the cops will be able to identify the shooter.

However, things can begin to get worse for law enforcement.

Because loaded ammunition is expensive many legitimate, law-abiding gun owners reload their brass or spent cases.

Complicating matters, these people may have several firearms in the same caliber.

As an example, I personally own 3 pistols chambered for .45 ACP; 3 revolvers chambered for either .38 special or .357 Magnum; 2 pistols chambered for 9mm; and 2 revolvers chambered for .45 Long Colt.

So let's assume a buy 3 boxes of factory loaded ammunition (same brand) for the 3 1911's. Let's also assume I shoot all the ammo, which is 150 rounds (a light day at the range).

Naturally I will collect all the spent brass because I'm going to reload it. Here is where the problem arises for LE as far as my firearms are concerned. I don't recall which brass was fired from which guns. I don't even care. All I know or care about is that I have 150 rounds of once fired brass to reload.

Each firearm leaves distinctive marks on bullets, primers and brass, but I'm probably going to drop all the brass in my bag without regard to which gun fired them.

Next, I'm going sort the brass into lots of 50 not according to which gun fired them.

When I size the cases the die will invariably leave tooling marks on the brass. Now, this act alone will cause LE problems if they attempt to match the reloads to a particular gun, but it's not impossible.

However, when I go to the range again with the reloads I won't know or care which gun fired which rounds. Now we have compounded the problem even more because each fired, reloaded round is going to have die tooling marks and at least 2 sets of markings on them from at least one gun and probably 2 guns.

This is going to include not only the scoring around the diameter of the case from the chamber but also marks caused by the breech face and the extractor as well as the ejector. This does not even take into account any scratches made from the magazine upon loading the round into the magazine and upon loading the round into the chamber from the magazine.

Do this 4, 5 or 6 times and I would be willing to hazard a guess that any semi-competent defense attorney would be able to get the recovered brass excluded as evidence in a trial.

Another factor that I haven't mentioned is the fact that I pick up expended brass at the various ranges where I shoot, brass that has been fired at least once from a gun I don't even own.

Of course, all of this presupposes that I were to use my guns in the commission of a crime, which, needless to say, I wouldn't do anyway.

Nevertheless, let's continue.

Now I'm going to complicate matters even more. Since I originally purchased the 1911's, I have replaced the slide on two of them, the firing pins on all of them, the extractors on all of them, the barrel on one, polished the breach face on one and I intend to replace yet another barrel. And, to further complicate this problem, as far as I am concerned, a number of the parts are considered interchangeable from gun to gun, not to mention the numerous spare parts I have for each gun.

None of this even addresses the normal wear on the barrel of a gun that is fired as much as mine are.

This also doesn't address one additional complication; the fact that there are already several million handguns in existence that won't be test fired for "ballistic fingerprinting." Nor is it likely that criminals are going to submit their guns for such testing. In fact, it is probably illegal to even suggest that they do considering that the 5th Amendment of the Bill of Rights protects them from self-incrimination.

Further, this doesn't take into consideration the expense of instituting such a scheme.

So, what impact will "ballistic fingerprinting" have on me? I am a law-abiding person. I am a former police officer. I am not likely to use my guns in a crime and the guns I currently own are not likely to have this so-called "ballistic fingerprinting" performed on them.

However, there is the fact that the bad guys probably don't reload their empty brass so this could work against them. Not picking up their empty brass after a shooting to reload them. This should be an asset to LE.

Now, in theory this may sound to some as a good idea, or at least not a bad idea. In fact, since I am not likely to commit a crime with my guns this shouldn't even be an issue for me. This should not be a problem for me because it isn't likely to affect me. In fact, if it "saves just one life" then it is a reasonable gun law, is it not? Isn't this a law that we can live with? Isn't this a law that we can compromise on?

After all, as long as I am a law-abiding individual, this law and laws like them won't affect me, right?

Wrong, guess again.

At this point in the game, compromise is no longer a viable option.

We have given up too many rights up to this point. It's like the old saying, "Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile." And they have done just that. We have "compromised" our rights away and received nothing in return.

The whole point behind a compromise is a little give and take on both sides. This has not happened in regards the elitist, socialist, liberal enemies of freedom and our inherent right to defend ourselves and our families.

This so-called "ballistic fingerprinting" is just another angle on the gun-grabbers' efforts to minimize our rights.

"Ballistic fingerprinting" once started can never be stopped. Eventually it will lead to a requirement that not only will we be required to obtain a license and register our firearms, we will be required to submit our guns for "ballistic fingerprinting".

Now, I'm not an expert on the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but I would bet that this type of government intrusion is a violation of the 4th Amendment as well as the 5th Amendment.

Once they have our guns and have fired test rounds for "ballistic fingerprinting" there will be a massive database which LE will go through in an effort match your guns to bullets and brass recovered from crime scenes in the past.

Next thing you know, you won't get that gun back because it will be considered evidence in a previous crime. You will have to explain where you bought or otherwise obtained that gun. You will become involved in a crime that you probably didn't have anything to do with. The only connection to you is the fact that you purchased a previously owned firearm. You won't be reimbursed for the cost of the gun. And, you will probably have to obtain an attorney at your own expense to protect your rights. You could even be wrongly charged as an accessory in the crime.

Not to mention that we might not even get our guns back after submitting them for "fingerprinting" even if they can't be connected to a crime because confiscation is their ultimate goal anyway. Once they have them in their possession why would they return them to us?

Sound far-fetched? What about mistakes on the part of LE? It could happen. It has happened. It happened to me. Consider the following true account.

I once purchased a DWM P-08 that was on consignment at a local sporting goods store. At the time in the People's Republik of Kalifornia we had a 15-day waiting period. Some 3 months after I had paid for and taken possession of the gun I received a call from a detective from my local Sheriff's Department. I was informed that my gun had previously been reported as stolen and he wanted me to surrender the gun to him at the Sheriff's office so it could be returned to the rightful owner in Butte County.

Initially I declined to follow the detective's suggestion to surrender my handgun. I only surrendered the gun after I was called into my chief's office of the police department where I worked as a reserve police officer.

My chief informed me that I really had no choice but to surrender the gun. I advised him that I would surrender it to him. The Sheriff's detective was obliged to drive 40 miles to my police department to take possession of the gun even though I lived 5 miles from the Sheriff's office.

I subsequently contacted the Sheriff's Department in Butte County. Phones calls between me and the two Sheriff's Departments ensued in an effort to determine if my gun was in fact the gun stolen from Butte County.

Finally I ran the gun's serial on my department's computer and found that the stolen gun was supposedly a .38 caliber handgun, as well as several other guns with the same serial number.

At this point I called the detectives in both Sheriff's offices and informed them about the caliber discrepancy and asked them to contact the "rightful owner" and have him/her identify their gun.

I told them that my gun had certain identifying characteristics that the "rightful owner" should be able to enumerate and thereby determine if my gun was in fact the stolen gun in question.

The victim in Butte County was unable to tell the detectives that the gun had a 7-inch barrel without artillery sights. Nor was the victim able to correctly specify the caliber.

Three months after surrendering my DWM P-08 and numerous telephone conversations with two different sheriff's departments I was finally advised that I could have my gun back.

Upon it's return I found that the gun had been disassembled and incorrectly reassembled. I also found that the gun had been scratched when the side plate was pried off.

It was only my own determination, my superior knowledge of firearms (obviously superior to those two detectives), my knowledge of the inner workings of law enforcement, and an unwillingness to submit to superior pressure that allowed me to regain possession of my legally purchased firearm.

Make no mistake about it; these two detectives were not willing to assist a police officer from a police department in their own county. Professional courtesy was not even considered in the matter.

If I had not fought for my rights I would have lost a valuable firearm without remuneration by these bumbling, inept bureaucrats.

Now this example is only one instance where an acceptable practice of stolen property was being returned to the rightful owner but turned out to be one big mistake, wasted time on my part and the part of two detectives who could have figured out what I was able to determine and conclude the matter in a day or two.

Can you possibly image what would happen if we had to submit our guns to a law enforcement agency or testing center?

Would we get our guns back? Would they be lost or damaged? Would they attempt to determine if our guns had been used in previous crimes or had been stolen?

This at best could turn into a massive bureaucratic fiasco. At worst we could lose our guns once they have them in their possession.

Folks, you have to realize that we are in a fight that is so fundamental that it is absurd that we should even have to be in the fight.

We can no longer give away our rights by way of "compromise."

I grant you that G.W. may not be our best choice to safeguard our 2nd Amendment rights but at this point in time he is our best bet to defeat Algore. And make no mistake about it, defeating Algore is the most important issue that we face.

Even though I don't always agree with everything the NRA says I do agree with Mr. Heston when he tells us that we must vote freedom first.

And we can win if we are determined to fight for our rights.

Do it now!

Related Article:

The Practical Impossibility of Ballistic Fingerprinting

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I have seen an American general and his officers, without pay, and almost without clothes, living on roots and drinking water; and all for LIBERTY! What chance have we against such men! -- young British officer to Colonel Watson describing the American militia rebels in Georgetown, SC [Source: 'Marion, The Life of Gen. Francis Marion' by M. L. Weems, Ch.18]

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