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Bush skeptical of ballistic fingerprinting.
October 16, 2002 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Bush skeptical of ballistic fingerprinting. This article talks about Bush's (and the NRA's) reluctance to set up a national ballistic fingerprinting system to trace bullets back to the guns which fired them. Some feel this technology could be helpful in finding the DC sniper. Apparently, legislation to set up this system has been in the works for about 2 years, but this is the first I've heard of it. Any MeFi people know more about this?
posted by botono9 (92 comments total)

 
I've heard of it before, it has always been something that loomed in the background that people had been interested in.

I can't imagine why someone would oppose this. It gives the pro-gun people an argument for guns - now they're "safer" and hold their owners accountable.

Then again, if I had a gun and someone stole it to go on a killing spree, I suppose maybe I wouldn't like this law.

Still, I think it'd do more good than harm, and while I'm a bit torn, I think I'd rather Bush support it than shoot it down. Or.. maybe I'd rather Bush just quit the presidency altogether.. but that's another thread.
posted by twiggy at 8:05 AM on October 16, 2002


People oppose it because it is useless. Anyone with criminal intent can just change the barrel and pin on the gun, thereby rendering the whole operation obsolete.

It's a waste of time, resources, and rhetoric.
posted by eas98 at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2002


There is always a blackmarket of gun trading. Friends sell friends guns, a gun gets stolen, sold again. You really can't trace all of that. The technology would really be irrelevant in the sniper case, if the rifle were to be decades old. This would really only punish legitimate gun owners, not people using the blackmarkets.
posted by mkelley at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2002


Much as I like the idea, I have to agree with eas98. Everything I've read suggests it is a trivial task to change the fingerprint, making the database mostly useless.
posted by Fabulon7 at 8:12 AM on October 16, 2002


It would simply be another law that would have no effect.
posted by jbelshaw at 8:14 AM on October 16, 2002


eas98, how can any information at all be useless? As in the case of the sniper, any leads at all would be beneficial. Would ballistic fingerprinting ensure every crime would be solved? No - but it's inarguable that it would provide more leads.
posted by harja at 8:15 AM on October 16, 2002


I agree. Any information is better than no information. Cars can just as easily have their various registration and serial numbers swapped, spoofed or erased, but a record is still invaluable for tracking.
posted by digiboy at 8:24 AM on October 16, 2002


I kind of agree with jbelshaw. I mean, virgina is one of only two states to have implemented this... and it dosn't seem to be doing jack shit.

In adition, would it require all gun owners to be registered with the system? or would it only store fingerprints of 'criminal' guns? If A, I can understand the NRAs opposition, if B, I doubt it will do much of anything.
posted by delmoi at 8:25 AM on October 16, 2002


Everything I've read suggests it is a trivial task to change the fingerprint, making the database mostly useless.

The question that should be asked is how easy it is to totally change the fingerprint. If there are enduring aspects no matter the alteration gymnsastics one goes through, this could still be highly useful. If there aren't, then not. Ballistics experts?

Anyone with criminal intent can just change the barrel and pin on the gun, thereby rendering the whole operation obsolete.

Even so, doesn't the switcher need to own (or have come into some kind of contact with the owner of) said barrel and pin? Done right, wouldn't the fingerprint still give indications of this?

There is always a blackmarket of gun trading. Friends sell friends guns, a gun gets stolen, sold again. You really can't trace all of that.

Absolutely. But it gives you a path to a network of people that the criminal must have intersected at some point. This isn't conclusive evidence, but it's a lead.

I'll readily grant that (a) I don't know what I'm talking about here and (b) the case for a ballistic fingerprint database isn't open-and-shut strong. But every time I hear the standard objections, these are the questions I get. I hope someone can answer them.
posted by namespan at 8:30 AM on October 16, 2002


Only two states --- Maryland and New York, not Virginia, delmoi --- have created computerized ballistics fingerprint databases (and only for handguns, not long rifles, God forbid, Hillary Clinton and poor Jim Brady will break in your house as you sleep and confiscate your beloved arms).

A useless law? It's highly debatable.
More info here
posted by matteo at 8:31 AM on October 16, 2002


This would really only punish legitimate gun owners, not people using the blackmarkets.

How does this punish gun owners?
posted by donpardo at 8:37 AM on October 16, 2002


If there was evidence that you tampered with the gun to thwart the system, that in and of itself would be worthy of a hefty penalty, no? Would certainly be circumstantial evidence of criminal intent. Might only get'em a couple years, but hey -- it's a start.
posted by RavinDave at 8:39 AM on October 16, 2002


So we want Big Brother to track a select grouping of citizens?
posted by blogRot at 8:44 AM on October 16, 2002


If a state wishes to do this, I say fine. I'm speaking out my posterior here, but I have a sense that the data structure of such a system could in no way scale to a national level. Are these REALLY unique snowflakes?
posted by machaus at 8:45 AM on October 16, 2002


Would someone who is willing to ignore the laws as they pertain to murder be unwilling to ignore the laws as they pertain to mandatory ballistic fingerprinting of firearms?

Many people who oppose this do so because it would amount to registering of firearms.

That notwithstanding, anyone with access to a simple machine shop could alter the ballistic fingerprint very easily.
posted by revbrian at 8:45 AM on October 16, 2002


OK namespan, here's a few answers:
The question that should be asked is how easy it is to totally change the fingerprint.

The ballistic fingerprint basically contains scratches on the bullet itself that it receives from the barrel as it exits. By further scratching the barrel or removing scratches from the barrel by polishing the inside, one can effectively change the ballistic fingerprint enough to avoid a match.

Even so, doesn't the switcher need to own (or have come into some kind of contact with the owner of) said barrel and pin?

Parts of guns such as these currently require no paperwork to purchase. New laws would be required and enforced. Lots of problems here, but theoretically could be traced.

There is always a blackmarket of gun trading. Friends sell friends guns, a gun gets stolen, sold again.

In many states, guns sold by one person to another require no paperwork or reporting at all. I could sell a gun at a flea market to any stranger I choose. Again, new laws to ban this activity would be required and enforced rigidly.

Since our laws enforcement agencies cannot obviously enforce the current laws on the books to prevent the crimes we have now, a lot of people think more would do little good except wrongly punish law-abiding gun owners. There has been and will be much debate on this subject as long as people use a gun to break the law. Always have, always will.
posted by cowboy at 8:48 AM on October 16, 2002


on preview, what revbrian said too.
posted by cowboy at 8:49 AM on October 16, 2002


I forgot to say that the firing pin is also a part of the ballistic fingerprint and could be altered by sanding the end or slighly bending it to alter impact point on the primer of the shell casing. And to address RavinDave's concern, I would think that most of these alterations could be done in the normal maintenance of a firearm and would be difficult to prove intent in most cases, IMHO.
posted by cowboy at 8:53 AM on October 16, 2002


If there was evidence that you tampered with the gun to thwart the system, that in and of itself would be worthy of a hefty penalty, no?

Routine gun maintenance (swapping out the firing pin or the barrel) could change the fingerprint substantially. If anything, this would create a huge black market for unregistered guns. Besides, does anyone really believe the federal government could maintain such records with any measure of accuracy?
posted by mischief at 8:53 AM on October 16, 2002


It always amazes me that US citizens are prepared to put up with a situation in which thousands of people are killed, at least partly so that gun owners don't have to be registered. To an outsider (from the UK), it seems to epitomise the influence that a relatively small pressure group can have on US policy / law (as well as the US's masochistic love affair with fire-arms).
posted by daveg at 9:04 AM on October 16, 2002


There's nothing 'small' about the gun owners lobby in the US.
posted by schlyer at 9:10 AM on October 16, 2002


I'm having difficulty understanding the arguments against a national database of owners.

revbrian, what exactly is wrong with registering firearms?

If you purchase a vehicle, you register it with its VIN number. If you resell a vehicle to someone else, that person is required to re-register the same vehicle.

Why would a similar system for firearms be objectionable? If it is, why isn't the vehicle registration system being objected using similar arguments?
posted by tuxster at 9:10 AM on October 16, 2002


relatively small pressure group

Just how FEW gunowners do you think live in the US? Also, have you ever seen the NRA's complex in Washington, DC? It's massive!
posted by mischief at 9:12 AM on October 16, 2002


I have absolutely no knowledge of how useful such technology can be but I do have a general rule of thumb: If Bush and the NRA dislike it, it must have some merit. Heck, we can call in our military, creating possibly along the line, a national military police force (as Saudi Arabia has) but can not use data bases that might help? Why bother registering cars?
posted by Postroad at 9:27 AM on October 16, 2002


cowboy and revbrian: thanks for the clarifications. I'm gonna ramble on just a bit more, and assume you'll correct me if I'm wrong. My comments are more from data processing/matching point of view than anything else...

Thinking about altering fingerprints: my understanding is that all the mechanisms/parts of the guns we've talked about combine to produce some sort of scoring pattern on the bullet. That scoring pattern is what can link the bullet with the gun. We've established that scoring pattern can easily be altered. My question is: if you allow for some degree of fuzzy recognition -- some range of patterns that are a possible match -- would most alterations put it completely outside that range? I can alter my personal fingerprints to some extent with glue or a razor or exfoliating chemicals... but there might still remain some salient characteristic that could be used not to identify me especiall, but to identify a range of individuals of which I am one. So let's say I'm the DC sniper, and for some reason they have a partial print, and so now I'm one of 10000 individuals whose prints matched said salient characteristic. But maybe only 3000 of those people actually live in the DC area, some number aren't in jail, and maybe only 300 match a profile demographic, and only 10 of those people own white vehicles..... none of this would conclusively point to me by itself, but it'd give investigators something to work on.

Now, I'm assuming scoring patterns and changing them would work the same way -- that despite attempts at alteration (and short of changing all the mechanisms/parts that contribute to it) there would remain some aspect of the scoring pattern that would remain salient. There wouldn't be a one-to-one correlation between gun and bullet anymore, but suggesting even 10000 potential matches could go a long way in working on a regional crime, especially with other clues.

If I'm totally off base about indelible portions of scoring patterns, someone should correct me. : )
posted by namespan at 9:30 AM on October 16, 2002


would most alterations put it completely outside that range?

What you may not realize is just how limited a range we are talking about over tens or hundreds of thousands of weapons of one particular make and model. Remember, most weapons are mass produced and differences from gun to the next will be very slight. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if two bullets fired from the same weapon would match if one was fired normally and the other was fired through a well lubricated barrel.
posted by mischief at 9:46 AM on October 16, 2002


What tuxster said. Why is registering guns such a no-no? What rights does it infringe upon? We have to register cars. There is a registry for sex offenders. We have to register to vote. We have to have a license to get married. Etc, etc. Why not guns?

I am anti-handgun, and would prefer an all out banning of such weapons, but I can honestly say that registration would go a long way, and I would be less inclined to call for an all-out ban if guns were registered.

But since our Attorney General doesn't even like the idea of one having to wait a few days to get a gun, it isn't likely to happen anytime soon. Lock folks up without charging them with a crime? That's cool with the AG. Keep folks from contacting an attorney or their loved ones? That's cool with the AG. But ask him to support folks waiting a few days before they get a deadly weapon and you're suddenly infringing on someone's Constitution rights.

*sigh*
posted by terrapin at 9:53 AM on October 16, 2002


namespan: I heard a discussion on NPR the other day on this. The opponent of this law said that even normal use of a gun would alter the firing fingerprint so as to make it unidentifiable after 1000 rounds or so. The proponent said that while it would change the fingerprint, it would still be similar enough to match. Who's right? Beats the hell out of me.
posted by tippiedog at 9:55 AM on October 16, 2002


namespan:
The scoring patterns wouldn't remain the same. For parts like catridge extractors and firing pins, it would be easy to change the "fingerprint" with a file or emory cloth and hobbyist tools.
The problem is, as we debate this, criminals learn this too, rendering the FBI's Drugfire program less useful.
The grooves on fired bullets would be another matter. I'm a gun owner and I can't see a reason there shouldn't be samples made of etchings made by barrel rifling. You can change barrels, but it's a major pain. On the other hand, take any 10 members of MeFi and eight of them can be trained in a few minutes to defeat this other kind of gun "fingerprinting."
Mischief:
Lubrication makes no difference in the barrel etchings left on bullets.
posted by stevefromsparks at 9:56 AM on October 16, 2002


I love how Ari Fleischer says this won't prevent depraved individuals from committing crimes. Um, we know this Ari. That isn't the goal of the fingerprinting. The goal is to more easily be able to identify these "depraved" individuals when they start shooting people at gas stations.

I have no idea why there is any opposition to this database. It seems to me that any thing that would be able to help authorities identify murderers and killers would be a benefit to all involved. All the people complaining currently have their-
-phone record
-bank record
-driving record
-gas and electric record
-insurance records
-medical and dental records (upon demand)
-car records
kept in a variety of databases that can be crossreferenced by a variety of companies and agencies. I don't see any of you complaining about those.

I really don't have the energy for this argument, the same way I don't have energy to argue with my 10 year old nephew when he tells me that Batman is more powerful then Superman. There's just no logic involved except that he has a cool belt and lots of gadgets.
posted by LouieLoco at 10:02 AM on October 16, 2002


Why are measures such as ballistics fingerprinting, gun registration et al described as a punishment of legitimate gun owners? (I ask not to troll but to better understand the objections.)
posted by Dick Paris at 10:07 AM on October 16, 2002


namespan, your point is valid and I cannot rebutt it's logic. I was trying to illustrate that alterations can be made easily. The problem is that I have seen no research done on a before and after alterated barrel or firing pin to see the effects on ballistic identification. It may very well be that a positive ID can still be made, but personally, I doubt it. But I'm synical that way.
posted by cowboy at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2002


Wouldn't it be much easier to track bullets with serial numbers rather than gun fingerprints? Unlike guns, which can trade hands on a black market, wouldn't bullets be a commodity and be a lot harder to modify in large quantities as to avoid tracing?

A serial number stamped on the case would help, unless the killer picks up the shell casings - which is usually the last thing they think about. Casing serials might not work with the Washington sniper, but it would help in my opinion in a majority of cases.
posted by pine61 at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2002


Dick Paris, I believe that they are described that way, because they only affect legitimate gun owners. They do little, if anything to deter criminal behavior. Why create more hoops for law abiding citizens to jump through if they have no effect on the criminal behavior that prompted the law in the first place?
posted by jbelshaw at 10:19 AM on October 16, 2002


It is my understanding that the NRA remains opposed to any federal system that will track who owns what gun, because they believe that the next step is gun confiscation.
posted by 4midori at 10:19 AM on October 16, 2002


I am not trying to waive to NRA flag here at all, but the major problem with national gun registration is that only legally obtained firearms would be registered. These are not the guns that are involved in the majority of crimes. It's illegally obtained ones that do that and would not be registered. Do you think because there's a new law on the books that criminals will be so afraid that they will give up their guns? Sorry, that was baiting. Really, the are millions upon millions of illegal guns that would continue to used in crime. There are existing laws to punish those that have them and use them, and yet go mostly unenforced.
posted by cowboy at 10:21 AM on October 16, 2002


Pine61:
Bullets are very easy to manufacture. In fact, a nasty little secret is that some of the most damaging bullets are home made bullets. Thank God the Psychos haven't figured this out yet.
posted by stevefromsparks at 10:24 AM on October 16, 2002


Doesn't anyone find it ironic that some people will bemoan giving up certain freedoms (Like knowing what books you check out of the library, profiling, etc..) in the name of safety, but have no problem with limiting other freedoms (like government tracking rounds of ammunition) in the name of safety....

Logical these people should be on the same side....

Why is registering guns such a no-no? What rights does it infringe upon?
Lame example but it works: Have you ever seen "Red Dawn" very bad '80 movie about a Soviet invasion of America.. Point is, that the first thing they did is go get a list of the registrations for guns, and go right to those people to disarm them.

I am not saying that I am against registering guns, just that, that is the argument.
We have to register cars.
You have no right to a car, not protected in the Constitution
There is a registry for sex offenders.
See how well that is working in my home state.
We have to register to vote.
But it is an anonymous vote

We have to have a license to get married.
Same thing as the car above
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:39 AM on October 16, 2002


The goal is to more easily be able to identify these "depraved" individuals when they start shooting people at gas stations.

I have no idea why there is any opposition to this database.


If the database does nothing to meet its stated goal, then it's a waste of time and money better spent on effective anticrime techniques.
posted by hilker at 10:44 AM on October 16, 2002


Regarding Americans' opposition to gun registration, it might be useful to consider that many gun owners' trust the government's motives WRT gun control about as much as many of you trust Bush's motives WRT Iraq. Whether this is paranoia (in either case) is certainly up for discussion, but we should be cautious of labeling opposition to gun registration the product of ignorant rednecks without understanding the...ahem..."root causes" of their opposition.

I'd also suggest that if ballistic fingerprinting stands to contribute so little to solving crime, it just might be a waste of money.
posted by apostasy at 10:44 AM on October 16, 2002


The real hypocrisy here is the Bush administration's support for the 2nd Amendment vs. their eagerness to trash the other 9/10ths of the Bill of Rights. In the wake of 9/11, Bush and Ashcroft are pushing all sorts of information compiling and surveillance in ways that violates our rights, giving as their excuse the need for public safety. All of a sudden, when surveillance involves guns, they dismiss the argument that lives would be saved by it, and instead invoke the protection of individual rights. It would seem that, for Bush and Ashcroft, only fetuses and gun owners have civil liberties; everybody else is subject to surveillance without a court order, detention without habeas corpus, etc.
posted by Rebis at 10:47 AM on October 16, 2002


What tuxster said. Why is registering guns such a no-no? What rights does it infringe upon?

The argument is that it makes confiscation easier/too easy. It certainly infringes on a generalized right to be left alone, even if I think it's more than a bit histrionic.

We have to register cars.

Only if you want to drive them on the state's roads, AFAIK. If you just want to putter around on yer own dirt, I'd be surprised if you have to.

There is a registry for sex offenders.

There shouldn't be. It's a tool for mindless vigilantism, and an ex post facto extension of the sentence for many people who've done their time.

We have to have a license to get married.

We shouldn't have to. Our saying that we're married should be good enough without having to pay $X for a license and $Y for some useless officiant.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2002


a nasty little secret is that some of the most damaging bullets are home made bullets. Thank God the Psychos haven't figured this out yet

Travis Bickle certainly knew all about that

John Hinckley, on the other hand, just went shopping for Devastator bullets

then it's a waste of time and money better spent on effective anticrime techniques.

You know, many, many cops are in favor of reasonable gun control measures, just like the ATF is in favor of ballistic fingerprinting .
And also, the whole "they'll just confiscate our guns" argument is NRA-bred paranoia. Just that. Because there will be no confiscation, ever. Not even if Sarah Brady gets elected president with a Green majority in Congress. And we all know that. Nobody -- unless you think the occasional nut gleefully celebrated by the NRA PR machine -- wants to confiscate. There's reasonable opposition to certain gun show sales, to assault weapons (useful for duck hunting?). There's half a billion weapons in the USA, nobody will ever be able to confiscate them, even if Congress would actually pass such a law
posted by matteo at 10:54 AM on October 16, 2002


Lots of great discussion here. As a gun owner and former NRA member, I wanted to add that I'm not against the idea of reducing gun-related crime through whatever means, but ideas like ballistic fingerprinting seem less like a practical approach and more like political maneuvering to appease the populace during this crisis. That sounds harsh, but even if guns were completely outlawed, like in many countries, there still would be criminals with guns. If someone is going to kill with a gun, I would imagine the penalty for having an illegal firearm would do little to deter them from their course of action. And I know this is going to sound like I'm reading a NRA brochure, but if they got guns, I want one too, because I cannot trust the local PD to protect my ass at all times. That would be a police-state and I don't want to go there.

And just an FYI, I detest Bush and Co.
posted by cowboy at 11:00 AM on October 16, 2002


matteo: tell that to the gun owners in California (who suddenly found their weapons deemed by the California attorney general to be illegal and subject to seizure.)
posted by reverendX at 11:12 AM on October 16, 2002


All a thoughtful perp has to do is purchase ammo having a sabot around the bullet. All the "fingerprinting" ends up on the plastic sabot, which peels off the bullet within a few feet, and the bullet, having also a much higher velocity, flies to it's target without so much as an identifying scratch on its surface. The assertion that having information is always good ignores the cost/benefit of obtaining and maintaining that information and the ease of defeating such a measure.
posted by gregor-e at 11:24 AM on October 16, 2002


Well the difference between registering guns and registering cars, is that there is no organized political force campaigning to make car ownership illegal. The best way to stop future urban snipers from claiming their own little spot in the nutso hall of fame, is to simply place a tracking device in every car and or person. Are we ready to go that far? I know, I'm not.
posted by Beholder at 11:37 AM on October 16, 2002


[If you just want to putter around on yer own dirt, I'd be surprised if you have to.]
You don't - At least not in PA.

[Wouldn't it be much easier to track bullets with serial numbers rather than gun fingerprints? ]
You can make bullets with a kitchen stove, lead and a $2 mold. Pressing them into the brass can be done with a simple hand reloader. Many hobbyists manufacture their own rounds for better accuracy, performance, or price.

Single stage reloaders cost less than $100, multi-stage reloaders a bit more and you can make a couple hundred rounds an hour.

[revbrian, what exactly is wrong with registering firearms?]
There are many arguments I've heard against it. Personally I don't have a problem with it IF you could register every single firearm that is or ever would be in the US.

You won't, or can't so it amounts to yet another annoyance/tax/infringement on law abiding gun owners.

I still don't understand why someone who is willing to ignore the laws against murder would not be willing to ignore the laws against gun registration/ballistic fingerprinting/etc.

[I'm a gun owner and I can't see a reason there shouldn't be samples made of etchings made by barrel rifling. You can change barrels, but it's a major pain.]
Rifling can be easily modified with a half-decent machine shop without affecting accuracy. Natural wear&tear changes it enough to be unidentifiable after a couple thousand rounds.

With some jewelers files you could alter the barrel enough to change the fingerprint without significantly altering short/medium range accuracy.

Also - It would be useless against smooth bore weapons such as shotguns. A rifled slug fired through a smoothbore can be fairly accurate to over 100ft. Not exactly sniper quality accuracy, but I wouldn't want to be standing in front of one either.

As for barrel changing - That depends a lot on the weapon. I have access to weapons that would require less than a minute to change barrels.
posted by revbrian at 11:47 AM on October 16, 2002


Likewise we should just stop collecting people's fingerprints because criminals can just wear gloves?
posted by JackFlash at 11:56 AM on October 16, 2002


The ease of which Americans can sell, purchase, or trade firearms astounds me. The arguments against national registration, background checks, and national "fingerprinting" make no sense to me. None of these items deny the constitutional right to bear arms and all of them would help to track down or prevent criminal use of firearms.

Here are the arguments that befuddle me:

Criminals will just subvert the law anyway...
Sure these methods can be foiled but so can a car's license plate or VIN number be altered or your personal ID data stolen and used for nefarious purposes. The point is when these things happen there is almost always criminal intent AND the vast majority of criminals are pretty stupid in the first place and rarely take preemptive measures to not get caught. People are giving the VAST MAJORITY of criminals WAY too much credit for planning ahead.

We got a right to privacy...
We have to register in national databases so much information (much of it constitutionally protected btw) that the right to privacy is pretty much a moot point. If you exercise your right to free speech most likely, your name, address and phone number are recorded. Or similarly what about the Governments right to record and catalog people who exercise their right to demonstrate and protest?

Criminals will just by blackmarket guns anyway...
Again you are giving criminals to much credit. Even so if someone were to own an unregistered gun would that not allow for some form of criminal prosecution? Wouldn't this be sufficient to prevent a portion of criminals from trying to subvert the law or in the very least give prosecutors more ammunition in courts to prove criminal intent?

Again I don't see any real valid arguments that stand up.
posted by aaronscool at 12:00 PM on October 16, 2002


Great thread--so good that it may have even changed my mind on this issue. When I first heard of this, I thought it was a good idea, but hearing some of the issues raised here has led me to have second thoughts about. I think the effort that this would require may be better spent elsewhere.

Full disclosure: I'm a gun owner and I believe in some form of gun-control or registration. Great job MeFilistines.
posted by trox at 12:05 PM on October 16, 2002


there is no organized political force campaigning to make car ownership illegal.

Please, tell me which "political force" is buying senators and congressmen in order to make gun ownership illegal
Please, please, man, do it
Because I'd love to make a donation (just kidding)
Seriously, I think you're overreacting: gun control advocates (who, btw, are much poorer and therefore less powerful than our beloved NRA) ask for background checks, limits to assault weapons, safety locks. Reasonable, mainstream stuff like that. Your fears are, I'm sorry to report, NRA-induced
Not being able to purchase 25 shotguns, 10 Glocks and a shitload of Cop-killer Teflon bullets in a single day without a background check does not strike me as confiscation
posted by matteo at 12:06 PM on October 16, 2002


Criminals will just subvert the law anyway...

aaronscool: The billions of dollars (minimum) necessary to produce the database could be better spent in other ways to solve crimes.
posted by mischief at 12:13 PM on October 16, 2002


cowboy: These are not the guns that are involved in the majority of crimes. It's illegally obtained ones that do that and would not be registered.

So a registry is a bad idea if only the minority of guns used in crimes are obtained legally? That seems to say that we're only interested in catching murderers who use illegally obtained firearms instead of the more noble principal of catching all murderers. Sort of disingenious.

Also, a question: If the fingerprinting of the barrel and firing ping can be removed with an emory cloth, so could the serial number on the gun. Pressumably my many season addiction to Law and Order has taught me something, specifically that criminals like to remove serial numbers from guns. If this is so, and following the logic against barrell fingerprinting, why do we bother putting serial numbers on guns?
posted by nathan_teske at 12:30 PM on October 16, 2002


Not being able to purchase 25 shotguns, 10 Glocks and a shitload of Cop-killer Teflon bullets in a single day without a background check does not strike me as confiscation

Now that was inflammatory. This seems to be a civil discussion, no need to exagerate. I don't know anyone who could afford that hardware on a daily basis.
posted by cowboy at 12:37 PM on October 16, 2002


which "political force" is buying senators and congressmen in order to make gun ownership illegal

Well how about:

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Violence Policy Center
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

to name a few...


who, btw, are much poorer and therefore less powerful than our beloved NRA

Want to back that up with some proof?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:39 PM on October 16, 2002


nathan, I never said you could remove the fingerprint, just theoretically alter it to avoid a ballistic match. The steel on which a serial number is stamped is very hard and would require a lot of effort to remove entirely. And I see your point about registration, catching some is better than catching none. But it seems to me a mammoth (sp?) task that could not be done by our government.
posted by cowboy at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2002


Well mischief who says that the government needs to cover the cost of it?

I think we've proven time and again that by making access to guns cheap and easy we also open up our society to wave after wave of deaths at the hands of said guns. I doubt any other country has similar levels of gun fatalities per capita.

Call me crazy, but personally I don't think guns should be either inexpensive or easy to obtain.
posted by aaronscool at 12:55 PM on October 16, 2002


Steve,

I'm playing your game, but you have to give me evidence of their will to confiscate all guns: give me proof, direct statements about confiscation, possibly by Sarah Brady and other leaders. Sarah Brady wants something much less radical

About the NRA: have you ever heard about how they influence elctions? Because the NRA and its allies outspend gun-control groups by a ratio of almost 27-to-one.
Change the subject, man.
posted by matteo at 1:02 PM on October 16, 2002


Please, tell me which "political force" is buying senators and congressmen in order to make gun ownership illegal
Please, please, man, do it
Because I'd love to make a donation (just kidding)
Seriously, I think you're overreacting: gun control advocates (who, btw, are much poorer and therefore less powerful than our beloved NRA) ask for background checks, limits to assault weapons, safety locks. Reasonable, mainstream stuff like that. Your fears are, I'm sorry to report, NRA-induced
Not being able to purchase 25 shotguns, 10 Glocks and a shitload of Cop-killer Teflon bullets in a single day without a background check does not strike me as confiscation (sic)


Nope I'm not overreacting, but you might be. I don't have a major problem with the assault rifle ban or even the Brady bill, but gun registration has historically been the first step towards confiscation. I believe we saw this recently in Australia (maybe one of our Australian posters can shed some light on this), where ownership records were used by the government to track down guns that had been perfectly legal up until that point. For the record, I don't own any assualt rifles, and I am not a member of the NRA.
posted by Beholder at 1:17 PM on October 16, 2002


About the NRA: have you ever heard about how they influence elections? Because the NRA and its allies outspend gun-control groups by a ratio of almost 27-to-one.

Change the subject, man


That's utter bullshit, when you take into account the tremendous amount of free exposure, that the media (both news and entertainment) gives the pro gun control movement.

Oh yeah, linking to a Mother Jones article hardly qualifies as accurate research. They're basically the left wing version of News Max.
posted by Beholder at 1:37 PM on October 16, 2002


Document:

The Gun Control Act of 1968, passed after the MLK and RFK assassinations (even Charlton Heston campaigned FOR it, guys)

Among its provisions, the Act:

Established most of the categories of prohibited purchasers of firearms, such as convicted felons, fugitives from the law, minors, people who are adjudicated mentally ill, drug abusers, illegal immigrants, people dishonorably discharged from the military, and people who have renounced U.S. citizenship.

Set minimum ages for purchases at 21 for handguns and 18 for long guns.

Banned mail-order sales of firearms and ammunition.

Required serial numbers on all guns for the first time.

Required licensed dealers to keep records of firearm transactions and authorizes federal officials to inspect dealers' records and inventory.

Banned imports of small, cheaply made handguns known as "Saturday Night Specials," as well as some semi-automatic assault rifles and foreign-made military surplus firearms.

Of course, some of its opponents Godwinize themselves

On preview:
"Free exposure"? Yeah, it sure beats all those millions and all those NRA ads...
Mother Jones like NewsMax? Man, that's serious slander... challenge the facts, man. Of course the WSJ editorial will hardly criticize their buddies at the NRA
Btw, did you agree with La Pierre's delicate "jack-booted thugs" statement?
posted by matteo at 1:41 PM on October 16, 2002


In many states, guns sold by one person to another require no paperwork or reporting at all.

In my opinion, that, at the very least, shouldn't be happening.

I really don't have the energy for this argument, the same way I don't have energy to argue with my 10 year old nephew when he tells me that Batman is more powerful then Superman.

Perhaps not more powerful... but definitely cooler and, not to forget, smarter. Hehe. Plus he almost kicked Superman's ass. ;)

Why create more hoops for law abiding citizens to jump through if they have no effect on the criminal behavior that prompted the law in the first place?

This is an important point I want to get across: It's not about crime _prevention_. You can't do that with any database. A register would simply assist investigation.

In many ways this is true of banning all firearms. Sure, criminals are still going to obtain weapons - they always do - but I don't believe that arming a nation makes it safer either, and detection / prosecution becomes a hell of a lot easier if they're the only civilians with them.

However, let's get real, we all know the US is not going to ban all firearms. Not any century soon, anyway.

For every methodical, professional, barrel-filing, cold-blooded murder there's an innumerable amount of hot-headed, crazy, psycho, spur-of-the-moment killings. These people aren't going to file their bullets or barrels down in the middle of a fit of anger or insanity. Nope.

Catching some is better than catching none.
posted by digiboy at 1:50 PM on October 16, 2002


It's a Catch 22 with statistics on this issue, like polls from political parties, they'll say whatever the group wants them to say. I was going to point out that firearms are used in defense a lot, but any numbers I could use to support that point are from pro-gun sources. Most folks on the other side would just say those numbers were inflated or created, and I can see their point. I don't know of any objective sources to quote and either side of the debate.

On preview - what was your point with posting the Gun Control Act of 1968? Just wondering really.
posted by cowboy at 1:50 PM on October 16, 2002


cowboy
I posted it because it doesn't look that unreasonable, doesn't it? And it _is_ gun control legislation. It is not evil per se.
That law is a moderate, centrist attempt at regulation of a very delicate and sensitive subject. I'm appalled when people try to make Sarah Brady look like a caricature, like a supporter of ATF agents raiding every American house in search of guns to confiscate. She's not. And most gun control people aren't.

If you wonder, I'm pro-gun. I'm just against the reckless deregulation promoted by the gun industry and their PR machine (namely, the NRA). I'm pro sensible regulation.
If Sarah Brady had ever said the gun control equivalent of NRA LaPierre's "thugs" comment, she would have been crucified. When I saw the attacks on the (pretty reasonable) assault weapons ban law in 1994, really, that opened my eyes
posted by matteo at 1:58 PM on October 16, 2002


I wish I could find the thread (I could've of sworn it was on MeFi) that talked about the Lexis-Nexis article search after the Appalachian law school shooting. Of 780 (? going from memory; couldn't find the thread) articles returned, only 10 reported that the shooter was stopped by two civilians with handguns. The rest of the articles said the shooter was "overpowered" by two civilians.

I'm just making you aware of it, because it seems to have disappeared. Does anyone else remember this thread? It was one of the reasons I wanted to be a member of MeFi. In any case, the "free exposure" the media provides to the gun-control lobby is far more powerful than the NRA ads, because the news is presented as fact - twisted or not - it's presented as fact, not advertising.
posted by BirdD0g at 2:21 PM on October 16, 2002


I too, am talking outa my behind, plus, I cannot find a good link, but I support some kind of bullet registry and/or rifling database. This isn't a horrible idea, but one that could provide leads to assist in fighting crime. I'm reminded of some article, somewhere concerning explosives. After the OK City bombing, companies started adding chemical tracers to explosives that would allow forensic tests to determine the point of manufacture. This doesn't always lead to a suspect directly, but does create a papertrail for investigators to follow. Is something similar possible for bullets?
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:28 PM on October 16, 2002


Unfortunately, the media did not point out that the "intervening" students were armed. A Lexis-Nexis search revealed 88 stories on the topic, of which only two mentioned that either Bridges or Gross were armed. A Westnews search exposed worse results. It revealed 112 stories, of which only two mentioned the armed students.

Sorry for the misinformation earlier (780, whoa, I was way off). I found the article, but couldn't find the thread. Welcome to media bias at its finest.
posted by BirdD0g at 2:43 PM on October 16, 2002


Elwoodwiles:
The problem with taggants is that there's plenty of chemicals that can be used to make bombs. So if you start putting taggants in some things, a smart criminal can easily switch to something without taggants.
There's really nasty bombs that can be made from chemicals sold over the counter in many places. I once called some companies in Charles Schumer's home zip code and found several that sold all the ingredients except one to make a very powerful bomb. These are chemicals that many people into restoring old cars might have, for instance. I suspect that missing ingredient could be improvised.
posted by stevefromsparks at 3:27 PM on October 16, 2002


cowboy --- i think you overestimate the difficulty of the task. At best there are, what, 10 million legally obtained guns in this country? That's not an ungainly number to keep tabs on, certainly far fewer records than other governmental registration databases which are watched carefully. (DOT, for example, keeps records on every single commercial truck which isn't in an exempt class. Millions of x-referenced records right there.) Technically the record keeping is probably feasible --- it just comes down to the politicking.

And please, excuse my naivete, but wouldn't some of the hardest steel be in the barrel of the gun itself? Logically it would undergo more stress than any other part of a gun.
posted by nathan_teske at 3:27 PM on October 16, 2002


If the database does nothing to meet its stated goal, then it's a waste of time and money better spent on effective anticrime techniques.
posted by hilker at 10:44 AM PST on October 16


Exactly right Hilker. Imagine how many police officers one could hire with US$957 million
posted by Mitheral at 3:28 PM on October 16, 2002


This is an important point I want to get across: It's not about crime _prevention_. You can't do that with any database. A register would simply assist investigation.

Unless a shooter is on a spree lasting several weeks, and you catch him sooner rather than later because of your information.

Not that I'm arguing for profiling -- I think it would be completely ineffective. To reduce firearms deaths, you need to either:
  1. Make guns rare and hard to obtain.
  2. Make people stop wanting to kill each other.
Neither one of these are going to happen, in America, anytime soon. We are a warrior culture, and we like our violence too much to stop ourselves.
posted by moonbiter at 3:29 PM on October 16, 2002


direct statements about confiscation

Why is the last time you got a "direct statement" from any pol?


It is called slippery slope...

I would post more, but I have to run to class...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:44 PM on October 16, 2002


nathan_teske:
The hardest steel on a bolt action rifle is the bolt, which has the withstand the pressure of the expanding gas.
Serial numbers on rifles and shotguns are currently put on the actions, into which the barrels are screwed.
Right now the BATF is only concerned with the transfer of actions, not barrels or stocks.
posted by stevefromsparks at 3:47 PM on October 16, 2002


BirdD0g: The original NY Post editorial has gone 404, but here is the text of it.

Of 280 articles about the shooting, 72 mentioned that students ended the attack, but only four mentioned that they used legally carried guns to do it.

Nah... the media don't have any bias here...
posted by jammer at 4:21 PM on October 16, 2002


I think a lot of the concern would go away if there was a very strong confirmation at every level of the law that there is a personal right to own guns which cannot be changed by the state short of a constitutional amendment. One of the reasons why gunowners tend to fear registration is that the slippery slope is real - promises that registration databases won't be used for confiscation haven't been kept in the past and there's no reason to believe that they will be in the future. When gun control legislation is passed most of the people involved start going after things they'd previously exempted - c.f. Boxer recently starting the usual shrill crusade against classes of "criminal" rifles which she had described as legitimate sporting equipment while promoting a bill only a few years before.

If there was a strong legal framework preventing this sort of continued attack on what they consider a basic right most gun owners would be far more likely to support more reasonable measures. Actually talking with them would also show that very few gun owners actually fit the sort of vicious redneck stereotype too many pro-gun control advocates assume.

It's like the abortion debate - the absolutists on either side have used scorched earth tactics long enough to ensure that a reasonable compromise is extremely unlikely - the whole debate has been reduced to the two opposite extremes shouting at each other.

As far as this registration database is concerned, it's highly unlikely to make a difference for the reasons mentioned - it's just too easy to avoid. Of course, it's not like effectiveness is a requirement for laws to pass.
posted by adamsc at 4:46 PM on October 16, 2002


why doesn't the US goverment just outlaw all weapons as the brits did after Dunblane. If you want to end terrorism then why not start at home and take away the terrorists tools
posted by JonnyX at 4:51 PM on October 16, 2002


Here are some thoughts on why a database wouldn't work.
posted by revbrian at 4:57 PM on October 16, 2002


JonnyX:Have you seen any of the numbers on violent crime commited with a gun, in the UK after the ban? They are up... not down...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:31 PM on October 16, 2002


why doesn't the US goverment just outlaw all weapons as the brits did after Dunblane. If you want to end terrorism then why not start at home and take away the terrorists tools

Idiot or troll, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the MF thread to suffer
The stupidity and asinineness of this outrageous statement,
Or to make ad hominem attacks against a moron
And with an offensive comment end this.

Fuckwit.
posted by BirdD0g at 7:50 PM on October 16, 2002


i think you overestimate the difficulty of the task. At best there are, what, 10 million legally obtained guns in this country? That's not an ungainly number to keep tabs on

According to the US gov't, it's 223 million as of '95. Lost the url, but it was somewhere under a Frontline episode's page.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:21 PM on October 16, 2002


How utterly American --- if you add in the illegal guns, we're certainly beyond one gun for every man woman and child.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:37 PM on October 16, 2002


[How utterly American]

Well, of course! They're like those potato chips - You can't have just one.
posted by revbrian at 9:36 PM on October 16, 2002


"You can change barrels, but it's a major pain."

Bull. I can change the barrel in my husband's Glock in less than a minute. And barrels are not that expensive.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:39 PM on October 16, 2002


I believe we saw this recently in Australia (maybe one of our Australian posters can shed some light on this), where ownership records were used by the government to track down guns that had been perfectly legal up until that point.

Of course, the fact registration had allowed the Australian Authorities to track down the illegal weapons seems to have been missed.

Australians gave up their firearms during the Gun Buyback Scheme, which was a result of the Port Arthur Massacre. While Australians never had wholesale rights to firearms, after this killing spree the public acknowledged that easy access to firearms was unneccessary in a modern society, and called for the recall of arms out of the general populace. The laws on which firearms are legal were excessively tightened, as was rules on ownership and use. Various rules were put in place (such as sporting enthusiats having to prove they practiced shooting a certain number of times each month, much like pilot flying-logs) and the Goverment offered the people money to buy-back weapons. This was a huge success - anyone who had a soon-to-be-illegal firearm gave it back, and those that didn't were tracked down due to the registary and made to give the weapons back or face fine/prison.

Since then firearm deaths have dropped (remember, most firearm deaths are accidental, not malicious, so having firearms out of most houses helped this drop dramatically), and it's pretty easy to tell if someone with a gun is a criminal (if they're not a cop - call one). While black-market guns are still available (and probably always will be), they are a lot harder to obtain.

Funnily enough, not having firearms amongst the general population has not seen the Australian Government turn into a fascist dictatorship (nor in the UK either). Dare I suggest that the tightening of laws on gun-ownership and the buy-back scheme were a big success?
posted by Neale at 11:39 PM on October 16, 2002


stevefromsparks: I once called some companies in Charles Schumer's home zip code and found several that sold all the ingredients except one to make a very powerful bomb

Please tell me you were visited by the FBI, at least for a look-see? :)

I think tracing or removing the guns is almost impossible- certainly if attempted would require decades to complete- but what about the ammo? Why can't ammo purchases be heavily restricted and tracked, and the bullets themselves embedded deep within using something in the metal as a chemical or other signature? Keep the guns- but I see nothing in the constitution about armor-piercing bullets. Make it so bullets can be bought only if you are licensed and each purchase would be recorded.

I agree that this wouldn't stop all crime- but it would force people to get more creative if they had intent to kill, or to obtain ammo illegally. I've never understood, beyond some simplistic Freudian reduction, the desire for a gun in a modern society. The one time I fired a gun, on a camping trip with a friend, it scared the crap out of me- even with the ear protection, it just sounded terribly wrong, like a ripping apart of the natural state of things.

It's also worth pointing out that from what I've heard, the issue of a personal right to bear arms has never been solidly determined or weighed on- that even the SCOTUS has basically avoided saying definitively one way or the other. Can more knowledgeable MeFites link to judicial precedent detailing this more completely?

On preview, most of what Neale said.

Oh, one last thing: I've often wondered something: many of the rev/reverend somethings posting in this thread (if not all?) are gun rights advocates. In general, it seems that a lot of folks at Mefi with rev-something as names are right-wingish, conservative, etc. Why is that? My dad is a Presbyterian minister, and he was a McGovern campaign manager back in the day (not his fault about '72, though...). Shouldn't all these "rev" types be raving peacenik lefties- like Jesus 'n' all? I don't see Christ as a big gun-rights, NRA supporter... Just wondering....
posted by hincandenza at 12:18 AM on October 17, 2002


Birddog, you really are a little tosspot, just because people like you get erections thinking about guns, and shooting squirells doesn't mean everyone in your country shares your thoughts. i guess you actualy believe that your country is safer because everyone owns a gun.
posted by JonnyX at 3:28 AM on October 17, 2002


who says that the government needs to cover the cost of it?

a) Who will pay for it then, the consumer? The largest consumer of weapons in the US is the US federal government and the aggregate of state, county and local governments. This only covers future gun sales, not guns already in possession by the populace.

b) Existing gunowners. The problem here is you have a one-time fee to pay for a database that must be maintained into perpetuity. The feds cannot even guarantee Social Security for the next 40 years, let alone tracking over 200 million weapons.

Add into this, all the bureaucrats and the fraud and waste that is attendent to every government process and suddenly you are allocating a major portion of taxes to a system that will not save a single life. On top of that, this system will drive the federal deficit even further into the red.
posted by mischief at 4:38 AM on October 17, 2002


i guess you actualy believe that your country is safer because everyone owns a gun.

When the constitution was written, the founding fathers had witnessed first-hand a government gone bad, so they put the second amendment on the constitution, allowing citizens to have a constant non-standing army. It is a prevention measure that maintains democracy.

To say that it won't happen again someday is a bit jaded. It has happened continually throughout history. Granted we have stupid gun accidents, and lunatics who kill people with them, but that doesn't mean we should take the guns away. Stupid people will still find a way to get in accidents and lunatics will still kill people – i.e. with airplanes, box cutters, and illegal guns. Look at the failure of prohibition in the War on Drugs: a $400 billion/yr black market drug trade exists today that supports terrorism. If we treat it as a health concern, and EDUCATE citizens of the dangers, we can minimize the (never eliminate) problems of both drugs and guns.

I'm not saying guns are safe. They're only as safe as the person holding on to them. But do you really think the best solution is to take all the dangerous things away and wrap ourselves in kevlar and bubble wrap? Prohibition has been proven to work against the good and for the bad, and good governments have been proven to go bad in time. Prohibition costs are better spent on educating the public about dangers and safety measures.
posted by BirdD0g at 6:47 AM on October 17, 2002


But do you really think the best solution is to take all the dangerous things away and wrap ourselves in kevlar and bubble wrap?

Aye. Sounds good.
posted by digiboy at 6:51 AM on October 17, 2002


Sounds good.

Can't blame you, considering. Seriously, how are things in Belfast these days? I haven't put a huge amount of research into the situation, just a couple courses, and a few books (Rebel Hearts was great), but it's one of those battles where I understand both sides, somewhat, and have never come to a good conclusion over who's right.
posted by BirdD0g at 7:37 AM on October 17, 2002


---
Seriously, how are things in Belfast these days?
---

I've been thinking for ages about how to answer this. You'd think it would be a simple question, but nothing to do with here ever is. There's a point to take note of, if ever you wanted one.

The best answer that I can come up with is that Belfast is basically the mess it always has been. Except, ever since the ceasefires, you don't have as many (proper) bombs in public places, bomb scares, security checks, etc. etc. Not that people in general here seemed to be anything more than simply inconvienced by any of that.

These days it's all beatings, riots, pipe/petrol bombs, gang wars, "organised" crime and basic thuggery. The ones with the biggest chips on their shoulders have taken more to fighting amongst themselves, starting small riots for a laugh and taking the occasional pot shot at each other... but I think it's probably better than it was. Politically, though, people appear to be moving towards the extremes.

Anyway, this could ramble on forever... so I should probably leave it at that. To be honest, any discussion on Northern Ireland is pointless and will ultimately go in circles.

It's not a logical place.

---
it's one of those battles where I understand both sides, somewhat, and have never come to a good conclusion over who's right.
---

That's a reasonably good position to retain. The best conclusion to come to is simply that everyone here is wrong, rather than that anyone is right. Seriously.

As for general information, in recent weeks I've seen so many articles by (or for) publications outside the country that plainly get facts wrong, or put a heavy political spin on their content one way or the other.

Never take anything you are presented about Northern Ireland - be it a news article, editorial, documentary, book, lecture, whatever - at face value. They always have an angle, even if it would be subtle. It's good to keep that in mind.

Local Guff:

* http://www.ark.ac.uk/

* http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/
* http://www.irishnews.ie/
* http://www.newsletter.co.uk/
* http://www.portadownnews.com/ (Satirical)

* http://www.bbc.co.uk/ni/
* http://www.u.tv/

Also, to quote myself from elsewhere on MeFi, for anyone else interested and reading outside of Northern Ireland:

---
* Don't give any money to any politically motivated group / person / event connected to Northern Ireland. No matter what misguided views you hold, you aren't helping anyone. {Somewhere down the line} It all goes towards hate groups of some kind or other, if not terrorists. Invest in legitimate companies? Sure. Start new ones here? Sure. Give money to non-political charities? If you want. Just don't make my life worse by sticking your wallet in...

* Over here, if something has too much focus politically one way or the other it's bound to be suss.

---
posted by digiboy at 2:40 AM on October 18, 2002


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