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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - February 07, 2008)

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By Mr. KENNEDY:

S. 2605. A bill to require certain semiautomatic pistols manufactured, imported, or sold by Federal firearms licensees to be capable of microstamping ammunition; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, today I am introducing the National Crime Gun Identification Act as an important step to reduce gun violence and support law enforcement. The bill requires semiautomatic handguns manufactured, imported or sold by federal firearms licensees to be equipped with microstamping technology. Congressman XAVIER BECERRA is introducing a companion measure in the House this week.

Nearly 70 percent of homicides in 2006 involved a firearm, and handguns were the weapons of choice for most offenders. Handguns are also the weapons most often used in murders of law enforcement officers. There is an urgent need for effective, high-tech gun-tracing capabilities such as microstamping, which can provide law enforcement with a much-needed investigation resource in solving gun crimes.

Microstamping uses lasers to make precise, microscopic engravings on the firing pin and chamber of a weapon, and this information is transferred onto the cartridge casing when the weapon is fired. The information includes the gun's make, model and serial number, and can yield important evidence to law enforcement officers investigating crimes. California has already enacted such legislation, and the technology has the support of many individuals and organizations, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, the Boston Police Department, Seattle Mayor Gregory Nickles, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Additionally, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators passed a resolution supporting the use of microstamping technology.

Microstamping is a significant new technology for ballistics identification. Congress should obviously support emerging technologies that enable law enforcement to make more effective use of evidence at crime scenes. Current ballistic analyses, conducted through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, depend on the transfer of accidental markings from a gun barrel to bullets and cartridge cases, which are then compared to a limited database with evidence from other crime scenes.

The current Ballistic Information Network has already been an invaluable resource for law enforcement. A remarkable number of crimes have been solved by using it, and it makes sense to invest in the next generation of ballistic technology. Microstamping in no way replaces any of the methods currently used by police to conduct ballistics tests, but it would clearly enhance the work currently done by law enforcement agencies.

FBI data indicate that handguns are used in most homicides, accounting for nearly 7,800 murders in 2006. In Massachusetts, violent crime rates are on the rise--growing 11 percent in Boston in 2006. In 2005, Boston police made a total of 754 gun arrests and 797 illegal firearm seizures. Nevertheless, from 1997 to 2005, shooting incidents have jumped a drastic 153 percent. We can help law enforcement solve more handgun crimes and reduce gun trafficking through the use of microstamping technology.

Bullet casings are often the only evidence left behind at crime scenes, particularly in gang crimes such as drive-by shootings. In Boston during 2006, bullet casings were recovered from nearly half of crime scenes involving shootings. In those cases, investigators could obviously have benefited from knowing the make, model and serial number of the guns involved in those crimes. Microstamp information can also be used to identify straw buyers and gun traffickers who supply the illegal flow of weapons to violent teens, gang members and other prohibited purchasers.

Critics of microstamping technology claim that perpetrators engaged in crime will be able to subvert the technology by filing the microstamped information off the weapons. In fact, however, microstamping is virtually tamperproof. The microstamped information is invisible to the naked eye, and most criminals would be unable to detect it. The microstamp is placed on the firing pin and in the chamber of the gun, so even if a perpetrator replaced the firing pin, the information would still be transferred to the casing from the chamber.

Others argue that criminals will plant cartridges at crime scenes to disrupt investigations. Realistically, however, we know that offenders rarely take even the simplest precautions, such as wearing gloves during a burglary, when engaging in criminal behavior.

Opponents also contend that microstamping will result in the creation of a new national database of gun owners. In fact, it will not result in any new database, because it will use information already available to law enforcement officers investigating gun crimes. In addition, microstamped information on bullet casings can be viewed with imaging equipment generally found at Federal, State and local forensics laboratories, making it unnecessary to create and maintain special equipment or facilities.

Finally, critics claim that the cost of adding microstamping technology is prohibitive. In fact, the technology will be available to manufacturers through a free licensing agreement from its inventor. Based on independent estimates, adding the technology to new semiautomatic handguns will cost only 50 cents to a dollar for each firearm produced by large volume manufacturers.

Handgun owners and prospective handgun purchasers will not be burdened by this legislation. There will be no changes in the procedures or requirements for purchasing handguns. Existing handguns and handgun owners will not be affected by this legislation since it applies only to new handguns.

The technology has been thoroughly tested. Independent examiners have fired thousands of rounds from guns with microstamping, and have consistently obtained readable marks on the casings.

Microstamping technology is urgently needed by law enforcement and can make a major difference in solving gun crimes. It is cost effective and will not impinge on the rights of any gun owners. I urge my colleagues to support law enforcement and reduce gun crimes by enacting this important legislation.


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