CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bigger Ballistics Database Shot Down

From In recent years, some lawmakers and gun control groups have pushed for a national database that would record the ballistics signature of every gun sold in the United States. But a new report from a prestigious scientific panel says it's probably not a good idea.

The series of deadly sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002 inspired some lawmakers to start thinking about a national database.

By comparing bullets taken from the victims, investigators knew that the shootings were linked. But to what gun? Whose gun? Police couldn't tell. The federal government does have a database of markings on bullets that police can search, but it includes only guns that have been already used in a crime.

That led some lawmakers to wonder whether the unique markings left by all guns should be recorded — whether the guns should be fired and their ballistic signatures noted before they were sold. That way, if the guns were ever used in crimes, investigators could trace them.

But it wasn't clear if the technology was ready. So the Department of Justice took the problem to the National Research Council, which gives the government independent advice on science issues. A panel spent four years looking at the idea.

The panel's verdict? "At this time, it really is not feasible," says John Rolph, who chaired the panel. Rolph is a statistician from the University of Southern California. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

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