The Corner

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The NYT on Microstamping


The New York Times has a reasonably fair piece about microstamping, a technology that could help law enforcement trace guns. New York is considering requiring gun manufacturers to use the technology, which basically turns a gun’s firing mechanism into a stamp: Every shell casing fired is marked with a code that traces back to the gun. The NRA and other gun groups oppose it.

Microstamping would be helpful to police, who often find shell casings but no gun at a crime scene. It would be valuable to know what gun those shell casings came from, and to whom that gun was originally sold. But microstamping wouldn’t be that helpful. For starters, many microstamped shell casings (up to half, depending on whose numbers you believe) are illegible. If a microstamping law passed, career criminals would presumably be sure to carry guns that were made before it — or that came from a state that does not require microstamping, or that had been stolen and thus could be traced only to their original owners. Revolvers do not eject shell casings. There may be ways to circumvent the technology with basic tools. And so on.

Is this a good tradeoff — a technology that could help solve some crimes, in exchange for a tiny restriction on gun-owners’ freedom and an implementation cost? Well, it depends in large part on the implementation cost. Between the Times article and my other reading on the subject, I’ve seen estimates that range from 50 cents to $12 to over $200 per gun. Remington claims it would need “astronomical sums of money . . . to completely reconfigure our manufacturing and assembly processes.”

The problem with New York’s legislation, in my view, is that it forces the costs of microstamping on law-abiding gun manufacturers, who pass them on to their overwhelmingly law-abiding customers. If the state government thinks the benefits of microstamping are worth the costs, it should be willing to ask taxpayers to bear the costs.