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June 14, 2012

More about Microstamping

Just this month, the professional journal of the Association of Firearms and Toolmark Examiners, the AFTE Journal, featured a peer-reviewed study whose authors included the microstamping technology patent holder Todd Lizotte. Among the study’s conclusions was that microstamping was “not a perfect technology.” This assessment comes four years after Lizotte was quoted in The New Haven Register as saying that the concept warranted further research. Clearly, microstamping is a concept not ready for prime time, and may never be.

The AFTE study points out that what appears to be a simple, high-tech solution to identifying guns used in crimes is actually extremely complex. “Microstamping involves more than just ‘blasting a number onto a firing pin using a laser,’ which to the layman may seem how the technique works. [However,] for each model of firearm an optimization process must be run. The optimization process considers many physical characteristics of the area of the firing pin that strikes the primer and how the laser used for engraving interacts with this area.” Material hardness and shape, size and curvature of the firing pin are among those characteristics. “Thus optimization is a complex process . . . that must be conducted for each model firearm of each manufacturer.”

Even though the Lizotte reportedly says he wants his patent to expire and the technology to enter the public domain, he stands to reap the significant rewards as a consultant to those many firearms manufacturers that would be faced with the challenge of optimizing the microstamping process. Optimization would not be a one-time procedure, but rather would be required each a time a company retooled because of wear and tear on parts and machinery. Legislation that would mandate and reward the use of sole-sourced, patented technology should also be closely scrutinized, and microstamping does not hold up to that scrutiny.

The Times’ article quoted divergent estimates of how microstamping would affect the retail price of firearms, with industry estimating costs would increase by $200 per firearm and microstamping advocates putting the cost at $12 per gun. Surely, the manufacturers are in a better position to estimate their costs of implementing this process, which would  require assembling firearms with a unique set of parts rather than in a batch process of interchangeable parts, as the AFTE paper points out.

Even if microstamping were adopted in New York and worked as claimed, it would not be the crime-solving solution its proponents suggest. Most guns used in crime are stolen. Many guns used to commit crimes in New York State were originally sold at retail outside the state. In New York firearms recovered by law enforcement were originally lawfully sold on average almost 14 years before being recovered by the police.  As result, even if microstamping were adopted in New York, shell casings recovered at crime scenes would be very unlikely to have microstamping marks.  And it would be about 14 years before casings start showing up at crime scenes in New York with markings that would be largely illegible.

Implementing microstamping is also not without cost to the taxpayer.  In order to examine the illegible micro laser engraved markings on cartridge casings New York State crime labs would be need to purchase special scanning electronic microscopes which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Learn more about microstamping by reading NSSF’s background paper.

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Categories: Government Relations, Hunting, Industry News, Media Inaccuracies, Shooting