Government Technology

Microstamping Can Help Police Match Guns to Shell Casings, Study Finds



May 14, 2008 By

Photo by Michael Beddow, UC Davis: closeup of microstamp on shell casing

New technology currently being tested by the University of California at Davis could make it easier for police to identify the gun from which shells left at a crime scene have been fired. The technology, called microstamping, works by stamping each shell with an identifying mark unique to the gun from which it was fired. The recently concluded study found that microstamping is feasible, however it did not work equally well for all guns and ammunition in the pilot and wider testing should be done.

Microstamping technology uses a laser to cut a pattern or code into the head of a firing pin or another internal surface. The method is similar to that used to engrave codes on computer chips. When the trigger is pulled, the firing pin hits the cartridge case or primer and stamps the code onto it. In principle, the spent cartridge can then be matched to a specific gun.

In October 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 1471, requiring that all new models of semiautomatic pistols sold in California on or after Jan. 1, 2010, be engraved in two or more places with an identifying code that is transferred to the cartridge case on firing. Similar legislation has been proposed in other states and at the federal level.

In March 2008, a report from the National Research Council, part of the National Academies of Science, described microstamping as a "promising" approach and called for more in-depth studies on the durability of microstamped marks under different firing conditions.

"Our study confirms the NRC position that more research should be conducted on this technology," said Fred Tulleners, director of the forensic science graduate program at UC Davis. Tulleners is also a former director of the California Department of Justice crime labs in Sacramento and Santa Rosa.

If successfully implemented, microstamping would be one additional piece of evidence for investigators to link various shooting events, Tulleners said.

Microstamped firing pinUC Davis graduate student Michael Beddow looked at the performance of microstamped marks in one location, the firing pin. He tested firing pins from six different brands of semi-automatic handguns, two semi-automatic rifles and a shotgun. The firing pins were engraved with three different types of code: a letter/number code on the face of the firing pin; a pattern of dots or gears around the pin; and a radial bar code down the side of the pin. The engraved firing pins were purchased from ID Dynamics of Londonderry, N.H.

To test the effects of repeated firing, Beddow fitted engraved firing pins into six Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handguns that were issued to California Highway Patrol cadets for use in weapons training.

After firing about 2,500 rounds, the letter/number codes on the face of the firing pins were still legible with some signs of wear. But the bar codes and dot codes around the edge of the pins were badly worn.

"They were hammered flat," Beddow said.

Tests on other guns, including .22-, .380- and .40-caliber handguns, two semi-automatic rifles and a pump-action shotgun, showed a wide range of results depending on the weapon, the ammunition used and the type of code examined. Generally, the letter/number codes on the face of the firing pin and the gear codes transferred well to cartridge cases, but the bar codes on the sides of the firing


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Comments

CommonSense CommonSense    |    Commented May 16, 2008

This is going to be great news for the revolver industry.

CommonSense CommonSense    |    Commented May 16, 2008

This is going to be great news for the revolver industry.

CommonSense CommonSense    |    Commented May 16, 2008

This is going to be great news for the revolver industry.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 16, 2008

This is simply a backdoor attempt to achieve gun control. Microstamping, as mentioned even in this article with a more 'pro' stance, adds cost for no good reason. The law abiding among us are not the problem, but a criminal mind will defeat a scheme so obviously simplistic. Not only that, but why should I have to track all my cartridge casings so that there's no chance of me being implicated in a crime by someone else. I can't believe that otherwise intelligent people would fall for this as a solution to anything.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 16, 2008

This is simply a backdoor attempt to achieve gun control. Microstamping, as mentioned even in this article with a more 'pro' stance, adds cost for no good reason. The law abiding among us are not the problem, but a criminal mind will defeat a scheme so obviously simplistic. Not only that, but why should I have to track all my cartridge casings so that there's no chance of me being implicated in a crime by someone else. I can't believe that otherwise intelligent people would fall for this as a solution to anything.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 16, 2008

This is simply a backdoor attempt to achieve gun control. Microstamping, as mentioned even in this article with a more 'pro' stance, adds cost for no good reason. The law abiding among us are not the problem, but a criminal mind will defeat a scheme so obviously simplistic. Not only that, but why should I have to track all my cartridge casings so that there's no chance of me being implicated in a crime by someone else. I can't believe that otherwise intelligent people would fall for this as a solution to anything.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 16, 2008

It doesn't work. UC Davis did the studies. Read them. Hate to say it, anyone in law enforcement that believes it works has to get their head out of the sand.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 16, 2008

It doesn't work. UC Davis did the studies. Read them. Hate to say it, anyone in law enforcement that believes it works has to get their head out of the sand.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 16, 2008

It doesn't work. UC Davis did the studies. Read them. Hate to say it, anyone in law enforcement that believes it works has to get their head out of the sand.

Chad Chad    |    Commented May 16, 2008

Once again, California has exempted law enforcement personnel from this requirement. They are exempt from the safe handgun requirment. Thus new handguns sold to general public are safe, but not law enforements. See CA Penal Code 12125 (b)(4) http://ag.ca.gov/firearms/dwcl/12125.php Police are exempt. How that's since a COP is a Citizen On Patrol.

Chad Chad    |    Commented May 16, 2008

Once again, California has exempted law enforcement personnel from this requirement. They are exempt from the safe handgun requirment. Thus new handguns sold to general public are safe, but not law enforements. See CA Penal Code 12125 (b)(4) http://ag.ca.gov/firearms/dwcl/12125.php Police are exempt. How that's since a COP is a Citizen On Patrol.

Chad Chad    |    Commented May 16, 2008

Once again, California has exempted law enforcement personnel from this requirement. They are exempt from the safe handgun requirment. Thus new handguns sold to general public are safe, but not law enforements. See CA Penal Code 12125 (b)(4) http://ag.ca.gov/firearms/dwcl/12125.php Police are exempt. How that's since a COP is a Citizen On Patrol.

Realist    |    Commented November 18, 2008

This is bogus technology based on junk science. How many cases has California's "ballistic fingerprinting" solved? You can count them on one hand. Another feel-good item that solves nothing.

Realist    |    Commented November 18, 2008

This is bogus technology based on junk science. How many cases has California's "ballistic fingerprinting" solved? You can count them on one hand. Another feel-good item that solves nothing.

Realist    |    Commented November 18, 2008

This is bogus technology based on junk science. How many cases has California's "ballistic fingerprinting" solved? You can count them on one hand. Another feel-good item that solves nothing.

Lee    |    Commented November 19, 2008

This is nothng more than a big boondoggle. Firing pins can be easily replaced. Shell casings can be picked up and decoys thown down. Imagine the wasted time and resources that will be expended running down decoy shell casings. Imagine the huge increase in false accusations that can occur. Some smart people aren't thinking.

Lee    |    Commented November 19, 2008

This is nothng more than a big boondoggle. Firing pins can be easily replaced. Shell casings can be picked up and decoys thown down. Imagine the wasted time and resources that will be expended running down decoy shell casings. Imagine the huge increase in false accusations that can occur. Some smart people aren't thinking.

Lee    |    Commented November 19, 2008

This is nothng more than a big boondoggle. Firing pins can be easily replaced. Shell casings can be picked up and decoys thown down. Imagine the wasted time and resources that will be expended running down decoy shell casings. Imagine the huge increase in false accusations that can occur. Some smart people aren't thinking.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 3, 2009

Far too simply defeated to be of any real use in law enforcement, but there may be handful of peculiar aficionados who would like personalized firing pins X^D

Anonymous    |    Commented May 3, 2009

Far too simply defeated to be of any real use in law enforcement, but there may be handful of peculiar aficionados who would like personalized firing pins X^D

Anonymous    |    Commented May 3, 2009

Far too simply defeated to be of any real use in law enforcement, but there may be handful of peculiar aficionados who would like personalized firing pins X^D


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