California Report Confirms Ballistic Imaging Limitation

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In a report to California’s legislature, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer acknowledges his Department of Justice finds technical limitations and a poor success rate in its attempts to expand ballistic imaging technology, designed to identify individual firearms found at crime scenes, into a database encompassing non-crime firearms.

The California Department of Justice’s own Bureau of Forensic Services used fewer than 800 semi-automatic handguns to test the system, and its experts discovered failure rates as high as 62.5% in attempts to match cartridge components with the handguns that fired them. Each year, according to the attorney general, 80,000 such handguns are sold in California. Legislation has been proposed for mandatory collection of ballistic samples from each, for use in what some have labeled a “ballistic fingerprinting” system.

Lockyer’s report acknowledges these unacceptable rates of failure in the Department of Justice study, concluding “today's technology is not yet adequate to handle the volume associated with adding all new guns to the database and still provide useful information for investigators.” The report calls for further study in several areas.

“The attorney general’s report clearly demonstrates that it is impractical to stretch the system beyond its intended use, and that there is a need for additional, scientifically based research on a range of ballistic imaging issues,” said Doug Painter, President of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The firearms industry has supported proposals in Congress to fund a comprehensive study of ballistic imaging technology by the National Academy of Sciences to determine its appropriate utilization as a law-enforcement tool.

NSSF, a trade association for firearms and ammunition manufacturers with more than 2,000 members, is supportive of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) that is administered by of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF). This system analyzes spent bullet casings found at crime scenes to compare marks that could assist in ascertaining if a firearm has been used in multiple crimes.

For more information about how ballistic imaging is currently used successfully and an explanation of why ballistic imaging cannot be compared to fingerprinting or DNA testing, visit the NSSF web site at There you will also find an examination of the failure of expensive, taxpayer funded, ballistic database systems in Maryland and New York to produce even a single criminal prosecution.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation since 1961 has been the trade association for the makers and sellers of firearms, ammunition and associated products, and a foremost promoter of the safe and responsible enjoyment of such products as well as the safe storage of firearms and ammunition.