NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 1, 2008

New York's seven-year-old database of handgun "fingerprints" has yet to lead to criminal prosecution, and questions linger about its effectiveness.  Still, state police remain committed, saying more time and a long-awaited link to a federal ballistic database could bring success, says the Associated Press (AP).

Since March 2001, information about more than 200,000 new pistols and revolvers sold in New York has been entered into the Combined Ballistic Identification System database.  Proponents say the markings are as unique as fingerprints and can be compared against shell casings found at crime scenes.  The results as of August: 209,239 casings entered, 7,124 inquiries and two hits. 

Gun advocates claim that the lack of results is evidence of the system's failure.  They contend that the state would be better served by spending the $1 million a year it takes to run this program on more police.  However, state police disagree, says AP:

  • The typical time between the legal purchase of a gun and the time it's used in crimes is seven to 10 years; that would mean that the first guns logged in 2001 are just now becoming more likely to be used in crimes, and that matches could start coming in the next several years.
  • The federal government keeps its own ballistics database called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network; the national database is different since it information on guns used in crimes, but it is technically possible to compare entries in the two databases.
  • Currently, New York officials are working on a one-way system that would keep New York's data out of the national database but allow New York to make inquiries into the federal database's information.

The matches in the New York database are a "first step" in investigations, and further technology, like "microstamping" -- guns are specifically build to leave unique marks on ammunition -- could increase the likelihood of catching a criminal, says AP.

Source: Michael Hill, "NY new-gun database has yet to lead to prosecution," Associated Press, September 28, 2008.


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