About fifteen years ago, a couple of states decided to try a program in ballistic fingerprinting. The idea was that, whenever a gun was sold, it would be fired and a casing would be kept of its ballistic fingerprint. Then, when that gun was used in a crime, police could use the ballistic fingerprint to find the perpetrator.
At the time, it was very obvious this program was going to be an expensive failure. Apart from the challenge of creating a usable database, it was fundamentally flawed. Because ballistics isn’t that precise a science. Ballistic “fingerprints” change. Ballistic fingerprint can be altered. Even if you could identify to whom a gun was sold, that doesn’t help you if the gun was stolen or sold to another party. It doesn’t prove they used it to commit a crime. And … as always … this was yet another gun control measure that punished the law abiding. According to the FBI, only about 15% of guns used to commit a crime were purchased legally. The vast majority are obtained from friends, family members or illegally. So people legally buying guns in stores had to go through this rigamarole while criminals didn’t.
You know … sometimes I hate being right all the time:
For gun control advocates, it sure sounded like a great idea. Why not force gun purchasers to fire a round at the police station so that the ballistic “fingerprint” of the firearm could be catalogued? That way, police could find the perpetrator every time a gun was used in a crime. What could go wrong?
Plenty, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Erin Cox. Fifteen years, millions of dollars, and 340,000 shell casings later, Maryland decided last week to scrap the system … after failing to solve one single crime in its existence.
What lessons are we to learn here? Perhaps the first lesson is that no idea is so nonsensical that it can’t be turned into a government program, especially when the topic is gun control. Even now, some of the program’s defenders insist that it takes 15 years for this kind of project to ripen because guns tend to get stolen and used in crimes long after their initial sale. However, even if that’s true, then the ballistic fingerprints will get investigators nowhere except to find the victim of a prior robbery. It still won’t solve the extant crime. Meanwhile, Maryland will bury itself in used shell casings and pay for storage and personnel in order to solve no crimes at all. Those resources would be put to much better use if they funded more investigators rather than more bureaucrats and stock clerks. Those are the priorities that matter in law enforcement, but appear to matter less to politicians looking for headlines to assuage gun-control advocates.
(That’s from Ed Morrissey. Be sure to click through to a great column from Glenn Reynolds about how gun control primary targets minorities, convicting them not of crimes against their fellow humans but of breaking arbitrary government rules.)
This was never going to work. Anyone who knew anything about guns knew this was never going to work. Even if it had been run perfectly and created an extremely efficient system for ballistic fingerprinting, it would never have worked. It would never have worked because guns don’t work that way.