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Bullet Cartridges May Help Identify Criminals


The U.S. Justice Department says homicides in the United States are most often committed with guns, especially handguns. And the number of shooting deaths has increased steadily over years. But a new technology may help prevent gun violence. It allows investigators to trace the source of the weapon, and perhaps find the shooter, even before they recover the weapon.

A new bullet casing contains critical information that law enforcement officials can use to identify the weapon that fired the bullet. They are aided by a new ballistics technology called "microstamping."

Todd Lizotte is the inventor. He explained how microstamping works at a recent demonstration in Washington D.C. "The technology is pretty straightforward. We understand that under certain pressures the metal will emboss itself even if it is a very fine feature."

Lizotte says if the make, model and serial number of a pistol are etched on the pistol's interior surfaces, those characters are imprinted on each cartridge case when the handgun is fired. So this microstamping technology will allow investigators to link cartridge casings that they find at crime scenes to the weapon used in the crime.

Representative Xavier Becerra of California arranged the demonstration. He and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts are working to introduce a federal microstamping bill in the U.S. Congress that would require new semiautomatic handguns to be equipped with microstamping technology. A similar bill has been introduced in the California General Assembly.

"There are ways we can reduce the gun violence in America in a smart way, in an effective way and a way that doesn't infringe on anyone's personal [gun] ownership rights," Becerra says.

The microstamping technology is hailed by gun control advocates. Josh Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He says microstamping will enhance an existing gun tracing system.

"We already have a trace system,” says Horwitz. “We know how to trace guns. Congress authorized and built a trace center. Microstamping would just allow you to access the trace center, get the data -- which is who purchased the firearm -- without the firearm."

Research by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence shows that of the nearly 2400 homicides in California in 2004, more than 60 percent were committed with handguns. The groups estimate microstamping would cost manufacturers only between 50 cents and one dollar per firearm. They say the new technology is a crime-solving promise in the future and will help make America a safer place to live.

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