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Microstamping is effective in connecting cartridges to guns that fired them, N.J. live fire test finds

New Jersey passed a law incentivizing gun microstamping in 2022; gunmakers protested the law on the grounds that the process was inaccurate and inconsistent


New Jersey authorities approved technology that would allow police to trace “microstamped” bullet casings back to the gun that fired them.


By S.P. Sullivan

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey officials on Wednesday released a long-awaited report on gun “microstamping” technology that would make it easier for police to solve gun crimes, an “important step” toward making every commercially sold weapon traceable, according to the state’s attorney general.

Just one problem: Nobody sells them.

New Jersey is now one of just a handful of states with laws concerning microstamping, a method using lasers to inscribe a unique code onto a gun’s firing pin, which then imprints the mark onto a bullet’s casing. Think of it like the VIN number etched all over your car.

Gun control advocates call it a game-changing technology, one that allows police to trace weapons even in cases where no gun is recovered. The gun industry maintains the technology isn’t up to snuff, and a federal court last year ruled against a California law mandating microstamping and other features in new guns.

New Jersey’s law, enacted in 2022, doesn’t mandate microstamping like similar laws in New York or California, instead offering rebates and incentives to pressure gun manufacturers to incorporate the technology. It also ordered the state attorney general to investigate the “technological viability of microstamping-enabled firearms.” That report was released Wednesday — more than a year after its statutory deadline.

The report details a live fire test conducted last summer at a State Police lab by New Jersey’s new microstamping examiner, retired ATF agent Reinaldo Roldan, concluding that the markings left on spent shell casings could be reliably matched to the gun. It was published by the attorney general’s Statewide Affirmative Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) office, which was created by legislation signed by Gov. Phil Murphy with the purpose of suing the gun industry over instances of gun violence under the state’s public nuisance laws.

“Now that we have certified that this technology is viable, we urge gun manufacturers to adopt microstamping technology in their production facilities and apply for placement on New Jersey’s microstamping-enabled firearms roster,” state Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in a statement.

Gunmakers are not jumping at Platkin’s invitation.

“This is a political document by an anti-gun attorney general in furtherance of an anti-gun agenda,” said Larry Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group.

The organization opposes microstamping, calling it “flawed and imprecise.” They say firing pins can easily be replaced and the markings just as easily filed off, among other problems.

When California passed a law requiring microstamping and other safety features on new handguns, gunmakers didn’t introduce new models for more than a decade until a federal judge ruled last year that the law was unconstitutional. That case is now on appeal.

The Trace, an independent news outlet dedicated to firearms coverage, sifted through the available research on microstamping, concluding: “The evidence is mixed.” The main criticism leveled at microstamping is that the firing pin makes for an ineffective stamp, leaving behind smudgy, illegible markings.

During New Jersey’s live fire test, 50 rounds were fired from a Colt .45 pistol, 10 of which were analyzed. The test determined the microstamped firing pin “regularly imparted an associable mark,” providing “a significant amount of information to aid a forensic examiner in associating a cartridge with the gun from which it was fired.”

The next step is for New Jersey to stand up a “microstamping roster application process” for gun manufacturers who want to introduce models that use the technology. Eventually, the law will require gun sellers to offer weapons with microstamping and offer buyers a 30% rebate.

Keane, the gun industry attorney, said “no manufacturer is going to incur the cost to implement a technology that doesn’t work.”

“The technology is not ready for primetime,” he said.

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