Microstamping & Ballistics in California

Microstamping: In 2007, California became the first jurisdiction in the nation to enact legislation requiring handgun microstamping. Microstamping means equipping a firearm with a microscopic array of characters that can be used to identify the make, model, and serial number of the firearm, that are etched in two or more places on the interior surface or internal working parts of the firearm, and that are transferred by imprinting on each cartridge case when the firearm is fired.1 Microstamping would enable law enforcement to use California’s handgun purchaser database to match a cartridge case found at a crime scene to the individual who purchased the handgun. The technology is a valuable crime-fighting tool because it helps law enforcement solve gun crimes where the actual firearms have not been recovered.

Signed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger, California’s Crime Gun Identification Act of 2007 requires all new models of semiautomatic pistols manufactured for sale in the state to be designed and equipped with microstamping technology. The law stated that it would go into effect as soon as the state Department of Justice (“DOJ”) certified that the technology used to create the imprint is available to more than one manufacturer unencumbered by any patent restrictions.2 DOJ certified that such technology is available unencumbered by any patent restrictions on May 17, 2013.3 However, this requirement has been challenged by the gun lobby in federal court and the outcome of this litigation is still pending. The firearm industry has also functionally exploited the grandfathering clause in the Crime Gun Identification Act by refusing to introduce new models in California markets that incorporate microstamping technology.

DOJ may also approve a method of equal or greater reliability and effectiveness in identifying the specific serial number of a firearm from spent cartridge casings discharged by that firearm to be thereafter required if this new method is also unencumbered by any patent restrictions.4

Ballistics Identification: In 2007, California adopted a law, effective January 1, 2009, authorizing local law enforcement agencies to enter representative samples of fired bullets and cartridge cases collected at crime scenes, from test-fires of firearms recovered at crime scenes, and other firearm information needed to investigate crimes into the U.S. Department of Justice, National Integrated Ballistic Information network (“NIBIN”).5 The law also requires the California DOJ to develop a protocol for law enforcement agencies to submit this information to NIBIN.6

In addition, in 2000, California adopted a law that required the Attorney General to conduct a study evaluating the feasibility and potential benefits of a statewide ballistics identification system.7 The Attorney General’s report, released to the public on January 29, 2003, states that automated ballistics fingerprinting systems are already assisting forensic experts using relatively small databases to compare cartridge cases recovered at crime scenes, and noted that the expansion of such databases to include hundreds of thousands of newly-manufactured firearms may potentially serve as a vital crime-solving tool. The report cautions, however, that under existing technology, adding the large volume of new guns sold in California could overburden the fingerprinting database, while providing limited useful forensic information to criminal investigators. The Attorney General is optimistic that technology will evolve rapidly to overcome these barriers to an effective ballistics fingerprinting system in California, and noted that further studies on the system are underway.8

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7). ⤴︎
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7)(A), 32000. ⤴︎
  3. See Cal. Dept. of Justice, Firearms Bureau, Certification of Microstamping Technology Bureau of Firearms pursuant to Penal Code section 31910, subdivision (b)(7)(A) (May 17, 2013), at http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/firearms/infobuls/2013-BOF-03.pdf. ⤴︎
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7)(B). ⤴︎
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 11108.10(a). ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 11108.10(b). ⤴︎
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 34350. ⤴︎
  8. California Department of Justice, Feasibility of a California Ballistics Identification System (January 2003), available at: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/pdfs/firearms/pdf/03-013_report.pdf?. ⤴︎

Microstamping & Ballistics in Connecticut

Connecticut requires that the Division of Scientific Services (Division) of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection establish a firearms evidence databank.1 The databank is a computer-based system that scans a “test fire” (discharged ammunition consisting of a cartridge case or bullet or fragment thereof containing sufficient microscopic characteristics to compare with other discharged ammunition) from a handgun and stores an image of the test fire in a manner suitable for retrieval and comparison to other test fires and other evidence in a criminal investigation.2

The databank may be used to: 1) compare two or more cartridge cases, bullets or other projectiles submitted to the Division laboratory or produced at the laboratory from a handgun; or 2) verify by microscopic examination any resulting match upon the request of a police department as part of a criminal investigation.3 Any image of a cartridge case, bullet or fragment of a cartridge or bullet that is not matched by a databank search shall be stored in the databank for future searches.4

A police department shall submit to the laboratory any handgun that comes into police custody as the result of a criminal investigation, as found property, or for destruction, prior to the return or the destruction of the handgun.5 The laboratory shall collect a test fire from each submitted handgun within 60 days of submission, and label the test fire with the handgun manufacturer, type of weapon, serial number, date of the test fire and name of the person collecting the test fire.6 Police departments are required to collect a test fire from every handgun that is to be issued to an employee.7

The Division may permit a police department that complies with all laboratory guidelines and regulations adopted by the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection regarding the operation of the databank to: 1) collect test fires from handguns that come into the custody of the police department; 2) set up a remote terminal to enter test fire images directly into the databank; and 3) search the databank.8

The laboratory may share databank information with other law enforcement agencies, both within and outside Connecticut, and may participate in a national firearms evidence databank program.9

Connecticut has no laws regarding firearm microstamping.

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(b)(1). ⤴︎
  2. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(a)(1), (5). ⤴︎
  3. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(b)(2). ⤴︎
  4. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(b)(3). ⤴︎
  5. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(c)(1). ⤴︎
  6. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(c)(2). ⤴︎
  7. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(d)(1). ⤴︎
  8. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(b)(4). ⤴︎
  9. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-7h(e). Additional requirements for submitting test fires and handguns to the database and for searching the database are detailed under Conn. Agencies Regs. §§ 29-7h-1—29-7h-6. ⤴︎

Microstamping & Ballistics in Delaware

By a law that became effective on September 14, 2016, it is the state policy of Delaware for its law-enforcement agencies to employ electronic technology and inter-jurisdictional information and analysis sharing programs to deter and solve gun crimes.1

As part of this policy, law enforcement agencies that recover firearms or spent shell casings at the scene of a crime must submit ballistics information, as soon as possible, to the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network.2 This will help determine whether the firearm in question is related to a prior crime or to an individual who may be associated with prior criminal activity.

In addition, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in cooperation with the Department of Justice, must develop and promulgate a statewide standard protocol for the recovery and forensic processing of firearms and firearm-related evidence where the gun was used for any unlawful purpose or recovered from the scene of a crime.3

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 8101. ⤴︎
  2. Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 8102(a)-(b). ⤴︎
  3. Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 8102(c). ⤴︎

Microstamping & Ballistics in Maryland

Maryland has no laws specifically related to firearm microstamping or ballistic identification.

In 2015, Maryland repealed a law that previously required any manufacturer that ships or transports a handgun to be sold, rented, or transferred in the state to include in the box with the handgun, in a separate sealed container (1) a shell casing of a projectile discharged from that handgun; and (2) additional information that identifies the type of handgun and shell casing.1

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. See 2015 Md. S.B. 736, repealing Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-131. ⤴︎

Microstamping & Ballistics in Nevada

In 2019, Nevada enacted a law that requires law enforcement agencies in counties with populations of 100,000 people or more to submit recovered semiautomatic handguns used or suspected of being used in crimes, and their shell casings, to a forensic laboratory for testing. The resulting data must be entered into the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN).1

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.___ [Added by Acts 2019, ch. 176, § 1]. ⤴︎

Microstamping & Ballistics in New Jersey

Whenever a law enforcement agency seizes or recovers a firearm that was abandoned or discarded, unlawfully possessed, used for any unlawful purpose, recovered from the scene of a crime, or is reasonably believed to have been used or associated with the commission of a crime, the agency must arrange for the firearm to be test-fired and the ballistics information must be submitted to the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network (NIBIN).1

Whenever a law enforcement agency recovers any spent shell casing at a crime scene or has reason to believe that the recovered spent shell casing is related to or associated with the commission of a crime or the unlawful discharge of a firearm, the agency must submit the ballistics information to NIBIN.2

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. N.J. Stat. § 52:17B-9.19. ⤴︎
  2. Id. ⤴︎

Microstamping & Ballistics in New York

In 2012, New York repealed its law requiring firearms manufacturers to include shell casings with handguns delivered to any person in New York, and requiring dealers to forward these casings to the State Police for entry into an automated database.1

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. 2012 N.Y. ALS 55, Part B, § 1. See former N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 396-ff. ⤴︎

Microstamping & Ballistics in the District of Columbia

Ballistic Identification

The District of Columbia’s Chief of Police must ensure that any handgun to be registered in the District is submitted for a ballistics identification procedure.1

Any applicant seeking to register a handgun in the District must, prior to transfer, present the approved firearm registration application to the licensed firearms dealer selling the handgun and take the handgun directly to the Firearms Registration Section of the District’s Metropolitan Police Department for completion of a ballistic identification procedure, and pay a $12 fee.2 If the applicant purchases from a dealer located in another jurisdiction, the applicant must have that dealer transport the applicant’s handgun to a licensed dealer in the District where the applicant will accept transfer pending completion of a ballistic identification procedure.3

Failure to comply with the ballistics identification requirement will result in the denial of the registration application or revocation of the registration for that handgun, and may subject the handgun owner to criminal charges.4

Microstamping Requirements

The District prohibits licensed dealers from selling or offering for sale any firearm that does not have imbedded into the metal portion of such firearm a unique manufacturer’s identification number or serial number.5

Beginning January 1, 2018, the District will prohibit any licensed dealer from selling or offering for sale any semiautomatic pistol manufactured on or after January 1, 2018 that is not “microstamp-ready.”6 “Microstamp-ready” means manufactured to produce a unique alpha-numeric or geometric code on at least two locations on each expended cartridge case that identifies the make, mode, and serial number of the pistol.7 A semiautomatic pistol will be deemed microstamp-ready if it is:

  • Manufactured in the District of Columbia;
  • Manufactured on or after January 1, 2018, and delivered or caused to be delivered by any manufacturer to a firearms dealer in the District; or
  • Manufactured on or after January 1, 2018, and sold, offered for sale, loaned, given or transferred by a firearms dealer in the District.8

A semiautomatic pistol manufactured after January 1, 2018 that is not microstamp-ready and was acquired outside of the District by a person who was not a District resident at the time of acquisition but who subsequently moved into the District shall be registered if all relevant requirements of the District firearms control laws are met, and may be sold, transferred, or given away but only through a licensed dealer.9 If a dealer lawfully acquires a microstamp-ready semiautomatic pistol that was originally purchased by a non-dealer resident of the District, the dealer shall not sell, offer for sale, loan, give, or transfer that pistol if he or she knows or reasonably should have known that the unique alphanumeric or geometric code associated with that pistol has been changed, altered, removed, or obliterated, excepting for normal wear.10

Beginning January 1, 2018, a manufacturer transferring a pistol to a firearms dealer for sale in the District will be required to certify that the pistol was manufactured on or after January 1, 2018, and that:

  • The pistol will produce a unique alpha-numeric or geometric code on each cartridge case that identifies the make, model, and serial number of the pistol that expended the cartridge casing; and
  • The manufacturer will supply the Chief of Police with the make, model, and serial number of the pistol that expended the cartridge case, when presented with an alpha-numeric or geometric code from a cartridge case, provided, that the cartridge case was recovered as part of a legitimate law enforcement investigation.11

Except for normal wear, the District prohibits any person from changing, altering, removing or obliterating the unique alpha-numeric or geometric code associated with that pistol.12 Replacing a firing pin that has been damaged or worn and is in need of replacement for the safe use of the pistol or for a legitimate sporting purpose shall not alone be evidence that someone has violated this prohibition.13

See our Microstamping & Ballistics policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03(d). A ballistics identification procedure is, generally, a process, approved by the Chief of Police, undertaken to identify markings unique to a particular firearm or the ammunition used by the firearm. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2399.1. ⤴︎
  2. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2320.3(f), (g). ⤴︎
  3. Id. ⤴︎
  4. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2320.6. ⤴︎
  5. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2504.08(a). ⤴︎
  6. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2504.08(b).D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2504.08(b). ⤴︎
  7. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(a)(3). ⤴︎
  8. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(b). ⤴︎
  9. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(c)(1). ⤴︎
  10. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(c)(2). ⤴︎
  11. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(e). ⤴︎
  12. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(d)(1). ⤴︎
  13. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(d)(2). ⤴︎