Opinion By Larry Keane
New Jersey is trying its hardest to become the California of the East Coast – without the good weather, Hollywood, and vineyards. When it comes to gun control, though, New Jersey’s got just about everything California has to offer – even down to the microstamping requirements.
That is, of course, until a federal judge ordered that California couldn’t enforce microstamping mandates earlier this year.
Turns out, it violates the Second Amendment. New Jersey might want to take note.
New Jersey’s Attorney General Matt Platkin announced that his office established standards and an application process for handguns to be included on New Jersey’s microstamping-enabled handgun roster. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law in 2022 that the state would follow in California’s footsteps to require that handguns be certified that they are equipped with microstamping technology that can regularly impart a code to a cartridge.
There’s just one problem. Every independent study of this nascent “technology” concludes that it does not reliably consistently produce a legible mark on the primer. Put simply, it doesn’t work as advertised. That might be why New York has yet to certify its own microstamping requirement. They’ve been investigating, and so far – nothing. New Jersey will look at the same independent, peer-reviewed studies. And, if they are honest about it, they must conclude it is not feasible.
Small Letters, Big Issue
Microstamping is a patented process in which a laser engraves a unique alphanumeric code to the tip of a firing pin. The notion is that when the firing pin strikes a primer, it leaves not just the dimple that results from the impact, but inside that dimple is an exact replica of that unique alphanumeric code.
In theory, this would make it easier for police at a crime scene to match spent cartridges with a particular gun that may have been criminally-misused in a crime. That theory, though, falls apart when it is tested under real-word conditions.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) commissioned a study into microstamping and the results were disappointing for gun controllers that pitch this as panacea. It isn’t.
This peer-reviewed study was conducted by a team of experts who published their findings in a firearms forensics scientific journal. Even the microstamping patent-holder, Todd Lizotte, got involved in the research that ultimately concluded that “…legitimate questions exist related to both the technical aspects, production costs, and database management associated with microstamping that should be addressed before wide scale implementation is legislatively mandated.”
In other words, it’s not ready for prime time.
That’s because smashing a few letters and numbers from a firing pin onto a cartridge and having work repeatedly isn’t reality. First, not all firing pins are the same. Firing pins vary greatly across types and manufacturers. The second issue is the alphanumeric codes are not reliably, legibly imparted on the primer. Lizotte conceded that even under the best and most controlled circumstances in a laboratory and using Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) to read the codes, it didn’t happen.
The study concluded that even with advanced technology, “a full gear code appears to be rare and dependent on the weapon that made the impression.” The study’s authors said that at least 10 spent cartridges would need to be collected to piece together a complete code, but that supposes that a criminal is going to expend ten rounds and that a crime scene wouldn’t have multiple criminals.
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It also assumes that the firing pin wouldn’t deform over time and no longer impart a legible code. It further assumes that criminals won’t tamper with the firing pins or replace them altogether. The laser-engraved codes can be defeated by dragging a nail file over the tip of the firing pin. Criminals are already known to scratch off or obliterate serial numbers from a firearm’s frame.
The National Academy of Science Study said of microstamping, “Further studies are needed on the durability of microstamping marks under various firing conditions and their susceptibility to tampering, as well as on their cost impact for manufacturers and consumers.”
Professor George Krivosta told the professional scholarly journal for forensic firearms examiners of microstamping, “Implementing this technology will be much more complicated than burning a serial number on a few parts and dropping them into firearms being manufactured.”
Responsibility for Failure
It raises serious concerns for firearm manufacturers. The cost of producing firearms that bear microstamping technology would increase by roughly $200. That’s a lot of money for a microscopic change. The cost is high, though, because of the requirement that each unique identifier on every firearm pin must be matched to the firearm. It also raises significant legal concerns. Who would be held responsible if the technology doesn’t work like California, New Jersey, and New York gun control politicians say it will? If a criminal scratches the code off the firing pin or swaps it out with an unmarked pin, who will the state hold responsible?
That’s a legitimate question in California, New Jersey, and New York, states that all passed laws to allow state authorities and citizens to bring frivolous lawsuits against firearm manufacturers for the harm caused by criminals misusing firearms. The firearm industry has been telling these states for years the technology doesn’t work. The experts agree. The criminals already ignore the law to commit crimes and with little consequence because of soft-on-crime politicians in these states. That would seem to implicate the state for selling false promises to the public for technology that doesn’t deliver.
AG Platkin’s announcement of establishing criteria and an application process is just the first step in the state trying to pull a gun control pipedream out of thin air. Next up will be the law’s requirement to investigate the viability. They might want to get together with New York and ask them what’s holding up their investigation into the same technology and requirements. It might be because they’re finding the same data NSSF found – it just doesn’t work.
Or AG Platkin can take a page from Vice President Kamala Harris’ playbook. In 2013, then California Attorney General Kamala Harris certified that microstamping was unencumbered by patent restrictions. She did not certify it actually works. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, she set in motion a slow-motion handgun ban that decreased the available models of handguns for sale in California from nearly 1,000 in 2013 to less than half of that today.
If AG Platkin follows along with California’s wishful gun control thinking, each New Jersey retailer would be required to carry at least one model in their inventory for sale. AG Platkin said forcing this not-ready-for-primetime technology “will have a profound impact on public safety across the state.” Yet, there’s no evidence of that. Like microstamping, his words are little and mean even less when there’s no proof it will do what you say.
About The National Shooting Sports Foundation
NSSF is the trade association for the firearm industry. Its mission is to promote, protect and preserve hunting and shooting sports. Formed in 1961, NSSF has a membership of thousands of manufacturers, distributors, firearm retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen’s organizations, and publishers nationwide. For more information, visit nssf.org