#Law Reform
California State Law
United States of America

In the Maryland sniper shootings, police rapidly matched bullet fragments from each victim to prove that the same gun was used in all of the shootings. The technology to match bullets to firearms is known as "ballistic fingerprinting." It worked and provided police with important crime leads.

But what was missing, what police desperately needed, was a nationwide database of the ballistic fingerprint of every gun before it is sold so that police could determine not just that the bullets came from the same gun, but which specific gun - manufacturer, model, serial number - the bullets were fired from. That would have helped police trace the sniper after the very first victim.

Because of opposition from the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association (NRA), efforts to expand ballistic fingerprinting to include all new guns have been blocked in Congress and state legislatures. Ballistic fingerprinting technology is proven and reliable. What is lacking is the political will for politicians to stand up to the gun lobby and establish a comprehensive ballistics database that would help law enforcement solve more gun crimes and catch more gun criminals.

What is Ballistic Fingerprinting?

When a gun is fired, identifying marks are made on the bullets and cartridge casings. Those marks, called ballistic fingerprints, are as unique as human fingerprints - no two firearms leave the same marks. The marks are also reproducible - every time a gun is fired it leaves identical marks. The uniqueness and reproducible qualities of ballistic fingerprints can provide a critical tool to law enforcement for solving gun crimes by rapidly identifying the specific weapon that was used in a crime.

Law Enforcement Supports and Uses Ballistic Technology

Federal law enforcement agents at the FBI and BATF have been using ballistic fingerprinting systems to match bullets to crime guns for more than a decade. In 1999, the FBI and BATF combined their ballistic fingerprinting efforts into a coordinated law enforcement system known as NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistics Information Network) that is now deployed in 160 different local law enforcement sites around the country.

Law enforcement officials have been entering ballistic fingerprinting images from crime guns and bullet fragments into the databases. To date, about 120,000 ballistic fingerprint images have been stored in the system and nearly 4,500 crime gun leads have been generated to help police solve crimes. For example, in Boston, 15 crimes were linked to one seized weapon and in New Orleans, ballistic fingerprinting helped convict 11 gang members who had gone on a deadly killing spree.*

Ballistic Fingerprinting is Effective

Ballistic fingerprinting has proven effective in helping catch criminals. On May 13, 2002, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stated that, "For several years, ATF has utilized IBIS automated ballistic comparison equipment in its firearms laboratories, and has deployed into State and local NIBIN partner agencies in order to assist them in their efforts against violent crime... .Though no investigative tool is perfect, or will be effective in every situation, the availability of an 'open-case file' of many thousands of (ballistic fingerprint) exhibits, searchable in minutes instead of the lifetimes that would be required for an entirely manual search, provides invaluable information to law enforcement authorities.

America Needs a Nationwide Ballistics Database

Ballistic fingerprinting can and does work, but the current, limited system lacks one critical element - new guns are not automatically ballistic fingerprinted and added to the database. That is why Maryland police could quickly match the sniper's bullets and determine that only one gun was used in the sniper attacks, but police could not identify which gun was used or trace that gun to identify the sniper. To build a nationwide database, manufacturers would test fire their guns and submit a ballistic fingerprint for each gun for centralized system. With this database in place, law enforcement could better match ballistics evidence at a crime scene to a specific gun, and then trace the gun.

We call on Congress and state legislatures to require every gun to be ballistic fingerprinted before it is sold so police would have a database for tracing crime guns. It is time to give police this important crime-solving tool.

Gun Lobby Myths About Ballistic Fingerprinting:

Ballistic fingerprinting images change as bullets are fired, making matches impossible:

Not true. In fact, federal BATF agents reported that they were able to match ballistic fingerprints even after 5,000 rounds were fired. Ballistic fingerprinting images are remarkably durable and few criminals fire their weapons anywhere near that often.*

Criminals would easily alter the ballistic fingerprint of their guns to thwart tracing:

Not true. In fact, federal BATF agents report that in the past 15 years, they have only come across one case in which a ballistic fingerprint was altered enough to prevent a match. The ballistic fingerprinting system looks for similarities in the marks, not differences. BATF stated that, "Just as a determined individual could alter a firearm, a similarly determined individual could alter his fingerprints through the application of acid or by other means. While it is possible to frustrate the fingerprint identification process through gloves or other hand coverings, there is no way to prevent a firearm used at a crime scene from leaving marks on the bullets and cartridge casings expelled from it... Research has concluded that in the overwhelming majority of cases, both (ballistic fingerprint) toolmarks and fingerprints are useful evidence for criminal cases."*

Ballistic fingerprinting is "back-door registration" of gun owners:

Not true. In fact, the ballistic fingerprint database would not have to include any names or other information about a gun owner. The database could simply include the manufacturer's serial number, make and model so that police could identify the crime gun. Police would then trace the crime gun by checking existing local gun sale records just as they do every day with other crime guns.

Crime guns are usually stolen so ballistic fingerprints won't lead to criminals:

Not true. This is a gun lobby fabrication. In fact, according to BATF, most crime guns are obtained through legitimate channels, from gun stores or gun shows. They are not stolen.

Unless every existing gun was ballistic fingerprinted, the system would be ineffective:

? Not true. In fact, since most crime guns are relatively new - the average crime gun was sold in the last three years - a ballistic fingerprinting system would only need to record images from new guns in order to produce important police leads. Ballistic fingerprinting of all new guns before they were sold would result in thousands of crime-gun leads for law enforcement within just a couple years.

The ballistic fingerprint database would be so large it would be unworkable:

Not true. In fact, federal BATF agents report that the time needed for a computerized ballistic fingerprint match dropped from four seconds in 1994 to just three-tenths of a second by 1999, and BATF estimated speeds will continue to rapidly advance. BATF also reported that the ability of the system to match bullets and casings actually improves as more images are entered which allow the computer system to refine its search.*

Maryland's ballistic fingerprinting couldn't catch the sniper so the system doesn't work:

Not true. In fact, Maryland only allows police to ballistic fingerprint handguns before they are sold - the sniper is using a rifle. No ballistic fingerprint information is collected for rifles or assault weapons in Maryland, though state authorities are pushing to expand the system to include assault rifles. New York also collects ballistic fingerprint data, but again only for handguns.

California's Attorney General reported that ballistic fingerprinting won't work:

Not true. In fact, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has called for rapid deployment of state and national ballistic fingerprinting databases that would include images from all firearms before they are sold. In a brazen effort to mislead the public, the National Rifle Association has circulated an early draft of the California Attorney General's report that did not include technical feedback from BATF, which resolved some initial questions raised by the Attorney General and the state Department of Justice. The NRA's deception prompted an October 20th statement by Attorney General Lockyer that, "The FBI and BATF have proven through their National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) that ballistics databases help law enforcement solve crimes... It is critically important that we invest our resources and energy to create a ballistics database that contains information about all new firearms manufactured and sold in order to help law enforcement solve crimes faster and save lives."


We, the undersigned, call on the California State Government to enact legislation in order to provide/support a national and/or state database of ballistic fingerprints in order to provide law enforcement agencies with tools necessary to expedite the process of capturing/preventing violence related to firearms.

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The Change California's Gun Laws - Ballistic Fingerprinting petition to California State Law was written by Anonymous and is in the category Law Reform at GoPetition.