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NO to Ballistic Fingerprinting

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Over the past nine days, a methodical killer has shot 10 people in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, killing 8 of them. There is scant evidence and police are having a hard time finding the killer, as is often the case when crimes appear to be completely random and without motive. One piece of evidence, however, has been recovered that is causing some debate — a casing from a fired bullet.

From the bullet casing, police now know that the shooter is using a rifle that fires .223 caliber bullets. This is not much help because .223 is a common size, used in both military and hunting rifles. But there are those now arguing that the sniper killings are evidence of the need for a federal ballistic-fingerprint database.

When a gun fires a bullet, it leaves distinctive markings on the metal casing of the bullet, a ballistic “fingerprint” of the gun. Gun-control advocates argue that in cases of random violence where there are few leads, a database of such fingerprints could lead immediately to the killer. But is this so?

One problem with such an argument is that there are already 200 million guns in the United States that have not been fingerprinted. A crime committed with any of these weapons could not be traced. But the ultimate failure of ballistic fingerprinting is due to the same problem that dooms gun-registration programs — what fool of a killer would use a gun that could be traced back to him? If ballistic fingerprinting was currently mandated, it is doubtful the sniper would buy his gun from a retailer, but rather from someone who specializes in untraceable guns.

Tragic as the sniper shootings are, it is not the gun, but the sniper doing the killing. So should we be monitoring people instead? More people die every year from hand-to-hand attacks than from gunshots. Weapons used include baseball bats, knives, fists, and just about any other hard object imaginable. Wouldn’t it be much easier to catch these people if the government mandated fingerprinting for every baby born? After all, it would make it easier to catch killers if we could have a database of every American’s fingerprints, linked to a Social Security number, bank records, health records, tax records, and every other nook of private life the state has invaded. Such a tyrannical program is what ballistic fingerprinting implies.

A ballistic fingerprinting program is just another creeping step towards federal monitoring of all gun owners. And just like Great Britain’s, this database would be the first place the government would go when it decides it doesn’t want the people to be armed any longer. Citizens should not allow a program to be implemented that would fail to achieve its aims and would succeed in choking off liberty.

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    Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.