Seeing beneath the veil of national ballistics registry – correspondence

Seeing beneath the veil of national ballistics registry – correspondence – Letter to the Editor

Bailey Martin

After reading Matt Nosanchuk’s editorial [see symposium, Nov. 26-Dec. 9], it is clear he knows little about firearms and even less about crime. Nosanchuk (pictured above) advocates expanding the federal bureaucracy, spending unknown billions of dollars and infringing on the rights of citizens for the sake of a system that would have the minimum impact on crime in this country. It can be assumed that his interest is more in the registration of firearms and their owners than in dealing with crime.

For anyone with any knowledge of firearms, the chink in the armor of the “ballistic registry” is simple and obvious: “Ballistic fingerprints” are not permanent. The ballistic markings left on a bullet or cartridge case change through normal use of the firearm and are easily modified.

In order for such a registry to have any validity, at least four assumptions must be true:

1. The firearm used in the crime previously was registered. Promoters of the registry suggest that only new firearms be “fingerprinted.” For the foreseeable future, this would represent only a small fraction of the firearms available. Unless the registry is expanded to include all firearms (which I believe is the intent), then the probability of identifying the firearm barely exists.

2. A bullet (or cartridge) is recovered at the scene of the crime in a “usable” condition. Bullets often are severely damaged, and not all firearms eject the empty cases.

3. The firearm used in the crime was not stolen from its rightful owner. While it would be possible to trace a firearm to the last legal owner, a stolen and unrecovered firearm would result in a dead end.

4. The firearm has not been modified subsequent to registration. Many gun owners make changes to their firearms (including changing barrels), either to replace worn parts or to improve performance. For persons intent on committing criminal acts, modifying a firearm’s “fingerprint” takes no more than five minutes and a file.

The unstated assumption of Nosanchuk and others who promote such a registry also is simple and obvious: It is the assumption that all gun owners are potential criminals. The mere fact that they own a firearm is cause for suspicion, and monitoring them is “necessary” to “protect the public.” Of course this is a false assumption and a blatant lie–70 million gun owners didn’t kill anybody today.

Murderers and other criminals are usually caught for reasons having nothing to do with a firearm. Much more frequently it is because the criminal has left other evidence at the scene: specifically, their own fingerprints or DNA.

If Nosanchuk and others like him truly are interested in dealing with crime, why do they not call for a national registry of fingerprints and DNA for all citizens? This type of evidence is much more likely to be found at the scene of a crime and it has the virtue of being a permanent marker–as yet, no one has devised a way to alter their own DNA.

If it is valid to assume that all gun owners are potential criminals, then it is equally valid to assume that all citizens are potential criminals, since they have access to other weapons. When Nosanchuk suggests and advocates such a registry, I still will disagree with him, but at least he would be making an honest effort.

Bailey Martin Fairview Heights, Ill.

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