Another day, another proposed Second Amendment restriction by the Democrats. Perhaps they just can’t help themselves, or perhaps, they figure if they keep at it they’ll simply wear down the gun lobby and those who believe in the right to bear arms.
In their latest attempt, Representative Anthony G. Brown (D-MD) has introduced the “Make Identifiable Criminal Rounds Obvious Act” to Congress, claiming it is simply “common sense gun reform.” His proposed legislation prohibits any federal firearms licensee (FFL) from manufacturing, importing, or selling new semiautomatic pistols that can’t transfer an identifying mark to ammunition when a shot is fired. If passed, it could change the entire small-arms industry. He presents it as empowering police officers to track crimes involving such weapons to their sources. Sounds great, right? Well, not everyone is convinced Rep. Brown is a straight shooter. His proposal would severely impact the ability of citizens to buy new firearms. There’s also an issue with the practice of microstamping itself – it’s too easy to circumvent to be effective.
The bill is simple enough and relatively straight forward – and at first glance, it appears it might accomplish its stated purpose. Beginning two years after its enactment, no FFL will be allowed to manufacture or transfer any semi-automatic that doesn’t meet the following two criteria:
(i) a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the pistol is etched into the breech face and firing pin of the pistol; and
(ii) when ammunition is fired from the pistol, the characters are copied from the breech face and firing pin onto the cartridge case of the ammunition.
Additionally, any removal or alteration of the code would be forbidden – just as it is currently illegal to render serial numbers unreadable – though of course, that’s no deterrent to violent criminals.
Just as important – at least as far as the bill’s efficacy is concerned – is what it will not do. The new Act only applies to semiautomatic pistols produced two years after this becomes law. While most gun-related crimes are committed with handguns – they’re just plain easier to conceal than an AR-15 – Rep. Brown’s proposal won’t aid the police in murders committed with revolvers, older semi-autos, or stolen guns.
Additionally, there are issues with the practicality of the process. Dr. C. Rodney James, an independent firearm examiner, explained to the NRA four major failures of microstamping:
1. Just a few passes with a sharpening stone or file could obliterate any markings on a firing pin. Additionally, the tips are softened considerably during the laser-engraving process.
2. Certain makes of semi-auto pistols produce drag marks when ejecting shells – which would degrade, if not obliterate, the markings.
3. Firing pins in many arms are easily replaced. It would, therefore, require a registration system in which firing pins would be treated like firearms. Additionally, changing the firing pin in many weapons is easier than removing the serial numbers.
4. Breech face stamping of a serial number would be problematic, affected by primer hardness and pressure as the usable area is the margin surrounding the firing pin hole. Additionally, some primers are stamped with trademark or other codes, which occupy some of the available space. Voids created by this stamping would likely obliterate portions of a serial number unless it were there in multiple repetitions.
Despite the obvious shortcomings and the awkward name – the MICRO acronym must have been imperative for Mr. Brown to resort to that wording – he and his 12 cosponsors believe the Act is the best way to advance their side of the liberty vs. public safety debate. He introduced it as a common sense approach in the July 28 press release, and was backed up by the Golden State’s own Attorney General:
“Gun violence takes too many innocent lives,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Microstamping is a smart, effective, and constitutional technology that can help keep criminals off the streets and reduce gun violence. I am proud to support this legislation that I originally sponsored with the late Senator Edward Kennedy in the 110th Congress, because making our communities safer is a priority in California. It is time for the rest of the nation to follow suit.”
But Becerra’s words belie the actual nature of this sort of law. The National Shooting Sports Foundation called the new requirements “impossible to accomplish,” and has challenged them in court. The California Supreme Court voted in March to hear the case, and the “smart, effective, and constitutional” law might not survive. Larry Keane, NSSF senior vice president, and general counsel, told Guns.com:
We are confident the California Supreme Court will uphold the Court of Appeal ruling allowing our case to proceed to trial where we will prove that it is impossible to microstamp a firearm in compliance with California’s ill-advised law that has resulted in no new models of pistols being available to purchase in the state since the law was implemented.
So far, the only effect their implementation has shown is a decrease in the number of firearms models allowed to be sold in the state – down from 1,152 to 744, all of which are due to lose their certification in 2018.
Despite Mr. Brown’s claims, the bill just doesn’t have the potential to accomplish its stated goal. Even if microstamping were guaranteed to work under field conditions, it wouldn’t be cost effective. The system required to record and later match up all firearm serial numbers in the nation to casings found in an investigation would, of courses, be on the tax-payers’ tab. The increased cost of manufacturing that comes with producing compliant guns and replacement parts – firing pins can and do sometimes break – would significantly raise the price of self-defense weapons. The price hike and extra tax could easily be called an economic attack on the Second Amendment. The many holes in the Congressman’s argument raise serious questions regarding the bill’s actual purpose. After all, California’s version certainly seems to make an effective gun ban.
What do you think? Is microstamping going to revolutionize murder investigations, or is this just a clever way around the Second Amendment? Does the bill even stand a chance?