New Jersey Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin, Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz, and Brady United Against Gun Violence showed off the cutting-edge forensic technology used for tracing bullet casings to the firearm from which it was discharged with one of the co-inventors of the technology, Todd Lizotte.
The New Jersey legislature is considering a bill, S1462/A2216, that would implement microstamping technology for newly manufactured semi-automatic pistols sold in the state.
"If microstamping is going to help keep criminals off the streets, if it's going to help us identify guns used for bad acts, then this is something that we should be supporting," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said.
Only two states in the country, California and New York, have passed microstamping laws.
Microstamping technology uses lasers to imprint unique markings onto the tip of a firing pin and/or breech face of a firearm.
These markings include specific information about the gun, much like a serial number, and the information is then stamped onto the bullet casings so that when the gun is fired, law enforcement can connect the bullets to the identifying information about the gun.
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Microstamping technology enables law enforcement to match bullet cartridges found at crime scenes directly to the gun that fired them, similar to the way law enforcement can use an automobile's license plate to identify the vehicle's make, model, VIN, and registered owner.
New York just passed the law just last week, but California's was passed 15 years ago. Since then, no handgun capable of microstamping has been introduced for sale in that state.
Instead, gunmakers have pulled new handgun models from the California market rather than equip them with the technology, which critics say is costly, unworkable and of questionable valuable as a crimefighting tool.
Both states are now trying new tactics to pressure manufacturers, and backers of New York's new law say it has a chance to succeed where California initially failed.
"The New York legislature has set up a more robust system that will produce a set of conditions and evaluations that doesn't rely on the gun industry to give them a thumbs up or thumbs down," said David Pucino, of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Peter Diaczuk, a firearms expert with John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said there are unanswered issues that still need to be resolved before microstamping becomes a valuable law enforcement tool.
It's unclear, for example, who would maintain any database capable of linking serial numbers on recovered shell casings to firearms.
Diaczuk said he's also worried about a lack of research on microstamping and how long the engraving technology lasts before it wears out. He said worried supporters are exaggerating how well microstamping is proven to work.
"This is absolutely not a panacea, not a magic bullet that's going to make gun crime go down dramatically," Diazczuk said.
But gun control groups say the technology could still be a valuable law enforcement tool.
"The firearm, gun industry has set up an idea that it has to work 100% all of the time, and that's not a reality for any technology we have," said Ari Davis, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
California's law, passed in 2007, was intended to phase in the technology by requiring it in all new handgun models. The law was stalled by legal challenges, but even after a court upheld it in 2018 - ruling microstamping was technologically possible and reasonably affordable, at a cost of $3.00 to $10.00 per gun - manufacturers balked.
Rather than introduce new models, they have continued to sell older designs previously approved for sale.
"What the gun industry has done is said: 'We're not going to sell any new models of guns that fall under the statute,'" said Dru Stevenson, a firearms policy expert and professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. "The problem with the statute is that it grandfathered in too many existing models."
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California lawmakers are now trying tweaks. New weapons used by law enforcement agencies in the state must utilize microstamping starting in 2023. Another law would gradually whittle down the list of noncompliant handguns approved for sale in California by removing three older models for every new, microstamp-equipped model put into the market, starting July 1.
New York's law takes a different approach. Its microstamping law covers all newly manufactured handguns, not just new models, meaning gunmakers would only be able to bypass the rule until they depleted existing stock.
The gun lobby has continued to argue that the costs and challenges of adopting microstamping are much steeper than supporters portray.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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