Maryland Ends its Failed Ballistic Fingerprinting Program

Published by the Author on November 10, 2015 at 9:22 pm > Gun Related News > Maryland Ends its Failed Ballistic Fingerprinting Program

As the Washington Times reports, Maryland has canceled its 15 year old “ballistic fingerprints” program, after recognizing the program was utterly useless.

Maryland has quietly ended a requirement that firearms manufacturers fire their handguns before being sold and submit the “ballistic fingerprints” to state authorities after the program failed to provide investigators with unique data in 15 years. . . after state police issued a report last year showing that zero crimes had been solved with the database at a cost of millions of dollars a year, ballistic fingerprinting was taken off the books.

Back in 2008, I discussed how New York abandoned its failed ballistic fingerprinting program:

The (faulty) theory behind ballistic fingerprinting
Proponents of ballistic fingerprinting believe that having the police fire a gun (and keep a shell casing) before that gun is purchased will allow the police to determine whether that gun was later used at a crime scene.  To make this determination, they say, the markings on the shell casing that the police retained from before the gun was purchased would be compared to the markings on the shell casing found at the crime scene.  Proponents also believe that such fingerprinting can be done with bullets.

Why ballistic fingerprinting doesn’t work
Ballistic fingerprinting, as NY has tried, sounds like a good idea in theory – but it simply does not work in practice for the reasons discussed below:
1. Criminals don’t buy their guns legally – Criminals don’t buy their guns legally, which means the police don’t have a ballistic fingerprint on file for illegal guns.  Instead, criminals steal guns or buy them on the black market, which bypasses ballistic fingerprinting, waiting periods, etc.
2. The markings a gun leaves on casings can change – A gun leaves marks on the shell casings it uses when its ejector and other internal components touch the casing.  However the markings that each gun leaves can change over time.  First, normal wear and tear on the gun will wear down the ejector and other parts that mark the casings, causing the marks to be different from those left on the first few shells that it fires.  Secondly, replacing the ejector or other parts of the gun will change the markings.  Replacing these parts could be a part of normal and legitimate repair work, or an intentional action by a criminal to change their gun’s “fingerprint”.  Regardless, the result is the same.
3. The markings a gun leaves on bullets that it fires can change – A gun leaves marks on bullets it fires because of the rifling (grooves that make the bullet spin for greater accuracy) in the barrel.  These groves wear down over time, and can be intentionally changed by a person with a tube of toothpaste and sandpaper.  Replacing the barrel of the gun also changes the markings on the bullet.

The same reasoning from New York’s failure applies to Maryland, and it is a shame that tax dollars were wasted for so many years.

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