Maryland “gun fingerprint” database shut down without solving a single case

posted at 7:21 pm on November 10, 2015 by Ed Morrissey

For gun control advocates, it sure sounded like a great idea. Why not force gun purchasers to fire a round at the police station so that the ballistic “fingerprint” of the firearm could be catalogued? That way, police could find the perpetrator every time a gun was used in a crime. What could go wrong?

Plenty, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Erin Cox. Fifteen years, millions of dollars, and 340,000 shell casings later, Maryland decided last week to scrap the system … after failing to solve one single crime in its existence (via PJ Media):

Since 2000, the state required that gun manufacturers fire every handgun to be sold here and send the spent bullet casing to authorities. The idea was to build a database of “ballistic fingerprints” to help solve future crimes.

But the system — plagued by technological problems — never solved a single case. Now the hundreds of thousands of accumulated casings could be sold for scrap.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” said former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat whose administration pushed for the database to fulfill a campaign promise. “It’s a little unfortunate, in that logic and common sense suggest that it would be a good crime-fighting tool.”

The amount of money wasted for Maryland taxpayers? Five million dollars, which isn’t the worst boondoggle in recent memory, but it’s bad enough. It would have been worse if the state had actually continued to operate the system for the entire fifteen years, but it gave up over eight years ago without bothering to end the program. Instead, the state legislature finally pulled the plug:

But the computerized system designed to sort and match the images never worked as envisioned. In 2007, the state stopped bothering to take the photographs, though hundreds of thousands more casings kept piling up in the fallout shelter.

And even when the state did operate the system, they didn’t operate it competently:

Worse, the system Maryland bought created images so imprecise that when an investigator submitted a crime scene casing, the database software would sometimes spit out hundreds of matches. The state sued the manufacturer in 2009 for $1.9 million, settling three years later for $390,000.

Republicans in Maryland tried ending the program twice, in 2005 and again in 2013. Democrats blocked those efforts both times despite the failures in both Maryland’s system and a similar one in New York, which shut down in 2012. When Martin O’Malley got a gun-control law passed in 2014, it created a surge in sales that ended up burying the state police in spent shell casings, requiring eight staffers to be hired to deal with the 60,000 fresh samples. Just warehousing and maintaining the shell casings cost “several hundred thousand dollars a year,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

What lessons are we to learn here? Perhaps the first lesson is that no idea is so nonsensical that it can’t be turned into a government program, especially when the topic is gun control. Even now, some of the program’s defenders insist that it takes 15 years for this kind of project to ripen because guns tend to get stolen and used in crimes long after their initial sale. However, even if that’s true, then the ballistic fingerprints will get investigators nowhere except to find the victim of a prior robbery.  It still won’t solve the extant crime. Meanwhile, Maryland will bury itself in used shell casings and pay for storage and personnel in order to solve no crimes at all. Those resources would be put to much better use if they funded more investigators rather than more bureaucrats and stock clerks. Those are the priorities that matter in law enforcement, but appear to matter less to politicians looking for headlines to assuage gun-control advocates.

Addendum: It’s worth noting, as Glenn Reynolds does, that the impact of gun-control laws often have more adverse impacts than just excessive spending:

Cottrol noted that crimes like carrying or owning a pistol without a license are what the law has traditionally termed malum prohibitum — that is, things that are wrong only because they are prohibited. (The contrast is with the other traditional category, malum in se, those things, like rape, robbery, and murder, that are wrong in themselves.)

Traditionally, penalties for malum prohibitum acts were generally light, since the conduct that the laws governed wasn’t wrong in itself. But modern American law often treats even obscure and technical violations of gun laws as felonies and — Cottrol noted — prosecutors often go out of their way to prosecute these crimes more vigorously even than traditional crimes like rape or murder.

Cottrol discussed a number of such cases, including that of Melroy Cort, a double-amputee Iraq veteran who in 2006 was traveling to Walter Reed Army Hospital for treatment from Ohio. He was charged with possession of a pistol not registered in the District of Columbia (though he said he had a permit in Ohio), a felony that would not only have sent him to prison, but would have cost him his veterans’ benefits. Although, as Cottrol notes, prosecutors in the DC Attorney General’s office had discretion to drop the charges; they instead threw the book at him. …

Want to reduce crime? Punish criminals. Don’t lock up peaceable citizens on a technicality.

And stop putting foolish roadblocks up for legitimate gun ownership as well.


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Comments

Yeah, I thought having a database of “gun fingerprints” was common sense, too. You might even be able to find a post on Hot Air of me saying so. But that was before it really dawned on me just how many guns there are in the US, how few of them are actually used in crimes, and how few of those were used by their legal owners. So, on reflection, it should have been obvious this was a waste of money.

Count to 10 on November 10, 2015 at 7:29 PM

SmartPower !

Mr. Arrogant on November 10, 2015 at 7:36 PM

Registration, pure and simple…

Of course, the Democratic National Socialist Party has already admitted to wanting steal our means of self-defense:

Mr. Cuomo, speaking on WGDJ-AM, said: “Confiscation could be an option.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/nyregion/cuomo-says-he-will-outline-gun-measures-next-month.html?_r=1&

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz Talks Gun ‘Confiscation’
http://newsbusters.org/blogs/dan-gainor/2012/12/16/msnbc-s-ed-schultz-talks-gun-confiscation

OBAMA ENDORSES AUSTRALIAN-STYLE GUN CONFISCATION
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKSvxz5LHHw

Torcert on November 10, 2015 at 7:38 PM

Part II:

Clinton: Australian-Style Gun Control ‘Worth Considering’ for U.S
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JctBYrIaKvY

Yes, They Want to Take Your Guns Away http://thebea.st/1HmJOfM

A gun-free society http://wapo.st/1LrJxz3

Torcert on November 10, 2015 at 7:39 PM

Fifteen years, millions of dollars, and 340,000 shell casings later, Maryland decided last week to scrap the system … after failing to solve one single crime in its existence

…why did it take more than a year?…wait…government!

JugEarsButtHurt on November 10, 2015 at 7:40 PM

Hmm, a thought occurs to me.

If this fancy database HAD worked, they could have generated an awful lot of specious statistics about who is committing gun crimes; i.e. only the initial legal purchaser could ever be tied to a crime committed with a particular gun.

What are the chances that a white, middle class working guy is the one who initially ponied up the coin to buy a new firearm at the local gun dealer? And he’d be the only one who could be linked to a crime, at least according to this database.

It would be a cool an scientificalistic way of obscuring some of those pesky statistics about which demographic is actually doing the gun crime and gun violence in America.

Dolce Far Niente on November 10, 2015 at 7:45 PM

When Martin O’Malley got a gun-control law passed in 2014, it created a surge in sales that ended up burying the state police in spent shell casings, requiring eight staffers to be hired to deal with the 60,000 fresh samples.
.
Erin Cox @baltimoresun.com, November 10, 2015

.
This sounds awfully familiar … seriously, it reminds me of somebody

listens2glenn on November 10, 2015 at 7:47 PM

Dolce Far Niente on November 10, 2015 at 7:45 PM

.
Even if it did “solve” a crime or two, the Maryland government probably wouldn’t have liked the outcome.

listens2glenn on November 10, 2015 at 7:51 PM

Isn’t Baltimore still in Maryland…?

d1carter on November 10, 2015 at 8:01 PM

Ya, know, this could have been useful–if only the criminals would have cooperated!

Axeman on November 10, 2015 at 8:03 PM

Uh huh. Take a round file to a single land of a barrel, etch a small crosswise hatch in the land, bullet now sufficiently marred to produce a non-match in bullet database.

This was stupid on a scale that only government could achieve.

Bishop on November 10, 2015 at 8:09 PM

Uh huh. Take a round file to a single land of a barrel, etch a small crosswise hatch in the land, bullet now sufficiently marred to produce a non-match in bullet database.

This was stupid on a scale that only government could achieve.

Bishop on November 10, 2015 at 8:09 PM

They weren’t matching bullets but shell casings.

RickB on November 10, 2015 at 8:10 PM

The late Jim Rock (pistol designer & fabricator extraordinaire) maker of the XL pistol by RPM refused to sell to any FFL in Maryland because of this stupid POS legislation.
His reason? His only product was the break action SINGLE SHOT pistol … the XL which was made in numerous calibers including many of his own design (see 270 Ren).
His pistols are ACCURATE beyond any other bar NONE. (See IHMSA championship records)
His frustration with this legislation was having to send expended cases fired in his pistols to be sold via FFL’s in MD.
In a SINGLE SHOT pistol the brass is kept until the operator opened the action and manually extracted the spent case. This simple fact made ID of his receiver face; firing pin indention, etc., nonsensical.
Which probably explains the “fantastic success” of this crime fighting method which was funded by all those twits in the Blue Crab State these so many years.

If we pass enough laws we’ll ALL BE CRIMINALS.

Stupid Americans

Missilengr on November 10, 2015 at 8:13 PM

They weren’t matching bullets but shell casings.

RickB on November 10, 2015 at 8:10 PM

OK… scratch your breech face, replace your firing pin… the point is that changes made to the firearm after the shell case sample has been submitted, would render those samples useless.

Hill60 on November 10, 2015 at 8:20 PM

If we pass enough laws we’ll ALL BE CRIMINALS.

Missilengr on November 10, 2015 at 8:13 PM

But just think about how much crime could be stopped by cattle cars!

Axeman on November 10, 2015 at 8:44 PM

They weren’t matching bullets but shell casings.

RickB on November 10, 2015 at 8:10 PM

My mistake, but yeah what he said. File a small hash in the firing pin or on the breech to mar the shell.

Not that I think perps would be smart enough to do it, but I know that matching casings and bullets to crime scenes is never admitted as 100% by the investigators.

Bishop on November 10, 2015 at 9:08 PM

$5 million is pretty cheap, compared to the money wasted by most liberal “good ideas”.

Socratease on November 10, 2015 at 9:33 PM

Clearly they missed the liberal memo outlining the solution to make this program work: MORE MONEY!

Other people’s money, too. Forgot to add that, but with libs, it goes without saying, or at least it should.

xNavigator on November 10, 2015 at 10:15 PM

It would have worked if only the right people had been in charge of it.

Joseph OHenry on November 10, 2015 at 10:43 PM

Maryland “gun fingerprint” database shut down without solving a single case

But…but…but it worked so well on those TV shows!

And that’s “reality”, isn’t it?

GarandFan on November 10, 2015 at 11:08 PM

“It’s a little unfortunate, in that logic and common sense suggest that it would be a good crime-fighting tool.”

Ahh. I think I see the problem.

There Goes the Neighborhood on November 10, 2015 at 11:15 PM

Snake oil salesmen quit selling to the public years ago… they all started selling “miracle” products like this casing matching system to local, state and federal governments.

Marcola on November 10, 2015 at 11:54 PM

Leftist idiocy failure, brought forth by leftist idiocy, fails again.

Still waiting for their inexperienced but nuanced win in any field….still waiting….still waiting…

jukin3 on November 11, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Hardened criminals get way too many chances to be out on the streets again after serving some time. It starts all the way back with sealing their juvenile records.

Sorry, but some people are just scum and are not fixable.

The solution is clear, but between the WWJD crowd on the Conservative side and the SJW crowd on the Left, criminals will continue to be guilty as hell and free as a bird.

Lastly, crimes against the State (like, not paying your Shylocks to the tax man who works for the duly-elected Mob at some level of “government”) are considered to a more serious issue than the average slobs/Proles who are murdered, robbed, raped and generally terrorized by the Great Misunderstood. Mess with their money or their power, and then you’ll see Justice swoop down from on High with the fury of a pi$$ed off ancient Greek god.

Dr. ZhivBlago on November 11, 2015 at 5:41 AM

They weren’t matching bullets but shell casings.

RickB on November 10, 2015 at 8:10 PM

Dremmel tool a/o replace firing pin.

Use reloaded ammunition.

Or just use a revolver.

Reuben Hick on November 11, 2015 at 6:45 AM

This line is PRICELESS!

It’s a little unfortunate, in that logic and common sense suggest that it would be a good crime-fighting tool.

No, it doesn’t. Nothing logical ever came out of a Dims mind. Case in point. I don’t think that means what you think it means.

Patriot Vet on November 11, 2015 at 7:22 AM

The scrap brass must be worth a fortune in todays dollar.

wukong on November 11, 2015 at 8:26 AM

Not that I think perps would be smart enough to do it, but I know that matching casings and bullets to crime scenes is never admitted as 100% by the investigators.

Bishop on November 10, 2015 at 9:08 PM

Slightly OT, but even genetic fingerprinting of the human body isn’t 100%. Darn near, but it doesn’t account for genetic chimerism.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2015 at 8:30 AM

The scrap brass must be worth a fortune in todays dollar.

wukong on November 11, 2015 at 8:26 AM

Is there a way to slag copper out of brass alloys? I seriously don’t know. Copper is far-and-away the most valuable component of brass.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2015 at 8:30 AM

Look on the bright side – being Democrats, they would have wasted that $5m anywway, and maybe on something even more stupid.

Ward Cleaver on November 11, 2015 at 9:35 AM

scientificalistic

Dolce Far Niente on November 10, 2015 at 7:45 PM

Heh. I love that.

GWB on November 11, 2015 at 9:36 AM

Yet another example of why gun control schemes will never work to reduce crime. This program only involved guns purchased by law abiding citizens who don’t commit crimes. No guns that would be included in the program, unless it is stolen, would ever be involved in a crime. And if it is stolen, nobody would know who stole it. And the Democrats crow about how much smarter they are. Basic logic seems beyond their grasp.

bartbeast on November 11, 2015 at 10:23 AM

Pikers! a failed Obamacare website can waste $200,000,000 (winding up in loyal crony pockets).

talkingpoints on November 11, 2015 at 11:25 AM

I always wondered why I got a little envelope of spent shell casings whenever I bought a pistol.

kurtzz3 on November 11, 2015 at 11:43 AM

What does that say about all the people in jail because of a forensic casing “MATCH”??? Maybe these casing matches aren’t as unique as prosecutors would have us believe. The tools that made two guns at the factory are the same… and will impart the exact same tool marks on the guns… which in turn put the “fingerprint” on the casing…

Are those prosecutors matching the tool marks from the firearm factories… or matching actual guns, to put people in jail.

RedManBlueState on November 11, 2015 at 1:08 PM

Liberals are such idiots! God must have a sense of humor!

ultracon on November 11, 2015 at 1:12 PM

There is an easy and legal way to defeat a “gun fingerprint” database. Change the barrel.

The post-Newtown ammunition shortage prompted me to buy two semi-automatics in .40 S&W, a round that I was not particularly of, but a round that was available when 9mm was in short supply. (I noticed that I received two spent shell casings with each.) After receiving each firearm I purchased 9 mm conversion barrels for each (about $110 apiece)and made them into 9 mm handguns. It only takes a minute or two to go back and forth between .40 and 9mm. I usually fire 9mm because it’s cheaper, but I appreciate the ability to use .40 whenever 9mm is sold out.

Oh, and for the Glock family of pistols you can also put a .357 Sig in a gun designed for .40 S&W if a higher powered round is of appeal.

ChuckinHouston on November 11, 2015 at 2:20 PM

They weren’t matching bullets but shell casings.

RickB on November 10, 2015 at 8:10 PM

A program designed to catch exactly zero revolver crimes, I see.

James on November 11, 2015 at 3:32 PM