Proposed Law to Ban All Handguns Without Microstamping Tech

Mirroring a California law from 2007, the bill would require the use of a technology that still can't be made to work.

An example of how the theoretical technology of microstamping might work. A number that allows the case to be traced to the gun that fired it is imprinted in the surface of the primer by the firing pi
An example of how the theoretical technology of microstamping might work. A number that allows the case to be traced to the gun that fired it is imprinted in the surface of the primer by the firing pin.photo from guns.com

Everything old is new again: while politicians in New Jersey try to resurrect so-called "smart gun" legislation, a dozen House Democrats are backing a federal resurrection of California's miserable microstamping law from 2007, as a federal measure that would mandate all pistols sold by licensed dealers be capable of stamping a code on their ammunition casings when fired.

The number would, in theory, allow police to connect spent casings at crime scenes to the gun that fired them, though it has never been tested in the field.

California adopted a microstamping requirement as part of a 2007 package of anti-gun legislation. It was delayed until 2013, because the technology to make the process viable simply didn't exist, when Attorney General Kamala Harris announced it was finally ready, according to this story from guns.com.

A a consequence, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) brought a lawsuit against the state, saying that the legal requirement for a semi-auto handgun to mark every cartridge with a laundry list of information, including make and model of pistol, as well as the serial number was "impossible to accomplish" and that the tech has never been proven in actual field conditions. The suit also states that microstamping would be extremely easy for a criminal to defeat, the story says

However, the Make Identifiable Criminal Rounds Obvious (MICRO) Act (HR 3458) was introduced last month that would make it illegal for any federal firearms licensee to sell handguns that do not feature microstamping technology, the story says.

"We must do everything we can to ensure gun violence can be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said the bill's author, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, (D-Maryland), in a statement. "Microstamping offers law enforcement the chance to track bullet casings to the source of the crime, and is one more step we can take to ensure the safety of the American people."

The fact remains, microstamping, if it can ever be made to work, would only allow for a spent casing to be matched to a handgun. If police were only to find a casing, they might be able to trace the serial number to the gun’s point of manufacture, or perhaps the first point of sale. However, if a criminal uses a gun that has been stolen, purchased illegally on the black market or through a straw purchase, the serial number won’t do police much good.

And still, the method of creating a finely detailed stamp capable of making an impression on the face of a primer with the normal force of a firing pin thousands of times with no degradation so it remains legible, remains elusive.

Here’s the scary part: based on what’s happening in California, this could be a strong effort at a national backdoor gun ban.

The California suit is currently mired in ongoing litigation in the state’s Supreme Court, but that hasn’t stopped the state from reducing the number of handguns legal for sale in the state from 1,400 models eight years ago to just 766 today, most of which are revolvers, which are exempt from the microstamping mandate.

"NSSF is currently challenging in state court California's microstamping mandate because it is impossible to comply with the requirements of California's law," Lawrence G. Keane told Guns.com. "The law never requires the impossible. Every independent peer-reviewed study of this nascent patented technology has concluded it is not ready for use as a crime solving tool. We have held the position, and still do, that this technology is unreliable, easily defeated and simply impossible to implement." "NSSF has consistently called for further study of this technology instead of imposing a legislative mandate that amounts to a ban on new models of pistols," said Keane.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

If you want a fictional representation of how all this might work, the 1995 Sylvester Stallone comic book adaptation Judge Dredd displays very similar technology and shows it being used in a courtroom setting. In the film, police officers have been replaced by Judges, who carry highly advanced smart guns, which are keyed to their users via DNA. Not only do they not work if an unauthorized person attempts to use the gun, it kills them with an electric shock.

The DNA of the user is also stamped on to every shell casing ejected from the gun, so the shooter may be later identified. Incidentally, the technology is corrupted in the movie and used to frame Judge Dredd (Stallone) for a murder he didn't commit.