What is Microstamping?
Microstamping is a ballistics identification technology that allows law enforcement officers to quickly link cartridge cases found at crime scenes to the firearm from which they were discharged. It starts with a firearm that has microscopic identification codes engraved into the gun’s firing pin. When the gun is fired, these codes are stamped onto each cartridge case. These codes correspond with the firearm’s serial number, allowing law enforcement to match spent cartridge casings to a specific firearm in a manner similar to how law enforcement can use a license plate to quickly identify the make, model, VIN, and registered owner of a car.
With microstamping, law enforcement can collect cartridges from crime scenes, identify the codes using a microscope, and connect the microstamped codes to the firearm used in the shooting. As a result, microstamping provides law enforcement with objective intelligence to develop leads within a matter of hours.
EFSGV’s February 2021 report: Microstamping: A Technology to Help Solve Gun Crimes, Identify Gun Trafficking Networks and Reduce Gun Violence
Report release online discussion exploring microstamping, a groundbreaking technology to help law enforcement interrupt gun trafficking networks, solve more gun crimes, and build trust within the communities they serve.
Speakers included: Josh Horwitz, EFSGV Executive Director; Ari Davis, EFSGV Senior Policy Analyst; Kami Chavis, Professor of Law, Director of the Criminal Justice Program, and Vice Provost at Wake Forest University School of Law, and Special Advisor to the Executive Director at EFSGV; Orrin Gallop, Assistant Chief, Commander of Investigative Services, Hampton (Virginia) Police Division; and Todd Lizotte, President & CEO of TACLABS, Inc., co-inventor and leading manufacturer of microstamping technology.
Microstamping is a reliable ballistics identification tool. Multiple peer-reviewed studies found that microstamping marked accurately through thousands of rounds of firing across a variety of different firearm models: codes were legible on over 95% of cartridge cases tested.1
The current ballistic identification process often provides vital intelligence to police departments, yet it currently faces challenges: it requires a recovered firearm and can require significant time and resources.
Microstamping enhances the current process by providing a direct link between a spent cartridge case and a firearm – even when the firearm is not recovered. Within hours, microstamped code can be quickly linked to a specific firearm and matched to other shootings where the same firearm was used. Microstamping has the potential to revolutionize the current ballistics identification process by helping law enforcement officers to develop new leads, identify perpetrators, and solve gun crime.
Firing pin equipped with microstamping technology.
Microstamp imprinted on a spent cartridge casing.
HOW WILL MICROSTAMPING HELP ADDRESS THE CRISIS OF UNSOLVED SHOOTINGS AND COMMUNITY GUN VIOLENCE?
In cities across America the majority of shootings and homicides remain unsolved. This is especially true in under-resourced Black communities that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. In many cities suffering from high rates of gun violence, law enforcement agencies often don’t have the tools or resources to thoroughly investigate shootings. One analysis of major U.S. cities found that law enforcement makes an arrest in only 35% of firearm homicides and 21% of firearm assaults when the victim was Black or Hispanic. 2
As cases remain unsolved, the victims of gun violence experience both the trauma of shootings and a lack of closure. This leads victims of gun violence and the larger community to lose trust in law enforcement’s ability to protect their community and bring about justice. As a result, families and friends of victims seek to protect themselves and carry out justice on their own. This causes increases in gun carrying and retaliatory shootings, further perpetuating a cycle of gun violence in many communities of color.
Microstamping can help stop the cycle by helping law enforcement solve shootings and reduce violence. With microstamping, police departments will be equipped to quickly analyze evidence and develop leads, thereby solving more shootings and bringing closure for victims of violence, their loved ones and communities. As law enforcement solves more cases, people impacted by gun violence may no longer feel the need to carry a firearm in order to protect themselves or to carry out justice on their own. This could lead to a decrease in gun carrying and retaliatory shootings, and an improvement in police-community relations, which will further drive down gun crime.
WHAT IS THE POLICY LANDSCAPE FOR MICROSTAMPING?
The evidence is clear that microstamping is effective, easy to implement, and can be mass produced. Indeed, firearm manufacturers have developed prototypes of similar intentional marking technologies and already use similar laser engraving technologies to imprint logos and decorative features on their firearms. Yet, manufacturers refuse to incorporate this simple crime-solving technology.
In 2007, the California State Legislature passed a microstamping law that required all new models of semi-automatic pistols sold or manufactured in California be equipped with microstamping, which, if successful, could encourage uptake of microstamping in other states as well. But for over a decade, the firearms industry has fought against this law and resisted incorporating microstamping into the manufacturing processes, engaging in lengthy and costly court battles.
The current policy environment is ripe for microstamping legislation both at the state and federal levels. The courts have resolved microstamping challenges, and in 2020 the California legislature revised its microstamping law to incentivize firearm manufacturers to bring new microstamped firearm models to market. Microstamping technology is available for manufacturers to implement today, and technological advancements in manufacturing processes are underway, thus making the technology even more affordable, reliable, and feasible for mass production.
READ THE FULL MICROSTAMPING REPORT
Microstamping: A Technology to Help Solve Gun Crimes and Reduce Violence provides an in-depth look into the powerful potential of microstamping technology.
- Outlines the mechanics of microstamping and explains how microstamping can help law enforcement improve upon the ballistics analysis techniques they use today.
- Explores how unsolved shootings contribute to the cycle of gun violence devastating many American communities and the potential for microstamping as a tool to help law enforcement interrupt those cycles of violence.
- Describes the development of microstamping technology and discusses the current legal and political landscape for such technology.
- Offer a set of microstamping technology policy recommendations.
We hope that this report will illuminate microstamping’s potential to help mitigate the converging crises of gun violence and policy legitimacy, engendering greater trust in law enforcement by increasing the percentage of gun crimes that are solved.
The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence hosted an online discussion on February 2, 2021, exploring microstamping, groundbreaking technology to help law enforcement interrupt gun trafficking networks, solve more gun crimes, and build trust within the communities they serve. Speakers included: Josh Horwitz, EFSGV Executive Director; Ari Davis, EFSGV Senior Policy Analyst; Kami Chavis, Professor of Law, Director of the Criminal Justice Program, and Vice Provost at Wake Forest University School of Law, and Special Advisor to the Executive Director at EFSGV; Orrin Gallop, Assistant Chief, Commander of Investigative Services, Hampton (Virginia) Police Division; and Todd Lizotte, President & CEO of TACLABS, Inc., co-inventor and leading manufacturer of microstamping technology.
To maximize the potential of microstamping technology, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence recommends the following:
- States should require that new semi-automatic pistols manufactured and/or sold in their jurisdictions be equipped with microstamping technology.
- Congress should require that all semi-automatic pistols manufactured in or imported into the U.S. be equipped with microstamping technology.
- Ed Fund Report: Microstamping: A Technology to Help Solve Gun Crimes and Reduce Violence
- CSGV Fact Sheet: Microstamping Myths Debunked
- CSGV Fact Sheet: California Microstamping Bill AB 2847
- CSGV Testimony: Support for California's Microstamping Bill AB 2847
- Ed Fund Memo: Microstamping Technology: Precise and Proven
- Archived Ed Fund Report: Cracking the Case: the Crime-Solving Promise of Ballistic Identification
- Podcast: Everything is Public Health: Gun Violence is Public Health - Microstamping
- September 2020 op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, California gun law on microstamping can help solve crimes. Industry must accept it.
- December 2019 article in Police Chief Magazine, Intentional Firearm Microstamping: A Technology to Help Solve Gun Crimes and Reduce Violence.
- Hemenway D. (2017). Reducing firearm violence. Crime and justice.
- Lizotte TE, & Ohar O. (2008). Forensic firearm identification of semiautomatic handguns using laser formed microstamping elements. SPIE.
- Lizotte TE, & Ohar OP. (2009). Tracking illicit small arms trafficking: implementation of Intentional Firearm Microstamping (IFM) to small arms and light weapons imports and exports. SPIE
- National Research Council. (2008). Ballistic Imaging. The National Academies Press.
- National Research Council. (2009). Strengthening forensic science in the United States: a path forward. National Academies Press.
- Ohar OP, & Lizotte, TE. (2009). Extracting ballistic forensic intelligence: microstamped firearms deliver data for illegal firearm traffic mapping– technology, implementation and applications. SPIE.
- Punzo, A. (2018). Microstamping: Hot Lead Or Dud Round. Seton Hall L. Rev.
Last updated January 2021