“Ballistic Fingerprinting” fails

If you are even the slightest bit ‘connected’ in the gun rights movement you will already know about what happened in Maryland.  They implemented a database of fired bullets and shell casings from all new handguns sold in the state.. This was an attempt to track down the owner if a bullet or shell casing were found at the scene of a crime.  Gun owners and manufactures told them it wouldn’t work.  They did it anyway.  Now they find out it didn’t work for all the reasons they were told it wouldn’t work plus some at least one new reason.  That reason is that different materials take on the markings differently.  Some bullets are made primarily of lead, some have copper jackets, and some even have steel jackets.  There are numerous alloys of lead too, some even use silver.  Shell casings are made of brass, aluminum, and steel.  If the manufacture supplied a bullet and shell casing made of one material and the criminal used another then the chance of a match is greatly reduced.

What amuses me the most about this is that the system failed and they suggest an alternate scheme that I am certain will also fail.  I have posted on it here:

This qualifies Maryland for a When Prophecy Fails mention.

Others have commented extensively on the report from Maryland:

I have included the entire Maryland report below for those interested in the details.


2. Integrated Ballistics Information System Remains under Scrutiny




The Maryland Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS), operational since October 1, 2000, provides police investigators with a tool to focus an investigation around a firearm. Chapter 2,

Acts of 2000 (Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000), required that manufacturers submit a test-fired shell casing with each handgun shipped for resale in the State.

The dealer then sends the casing to the State Police after the gun has been sold. The IBIS system receives the casing from the dealer, and firearms investigators and technicians perform a full analysis of the casing. The investigator uses microscopic technology to identify striations and other markings

that are unique to each individual gun. The striations are formed when the gun is fired, as the firing pin strikes the back of the casing, creating a unique series of identifying marks. The aim of the system is to create a massive database of identifying marks, so that any spent shell casings recovered at a crime scene can be compared against the IBIS database, to try to identify the gun used in the commission of the crime. Based on then-current handgun sales statistics, the State Police anticipated that 30,000 cartridge casings would be received annually for input into the IBIS system. As such, the system was designed to hold around 300,000 casings over a 10-year period.

The system has thus far received around 35,000 cartridge casings for input, including around 2,000 from trooper-issued semi-automatic 40-caliber Beretta firearms. There have been 160 requests to match crime-scene casings with the IBIS system, resulting in four “hits” or matches.




DSP anticipates continued maintenance supplies and personnel costs of $435,269 for fiscal 2005 to continue to operate the IBIS system. Initial start-up costs of $1.4 million were absorbed in fiscal 2001. IBIS requires one full-time equivalent position to maintain the system. DSP’s Forensic Unit currently assigns three forensic examiners to this program, each devoting one-third of their time to the IBIS system.




The State Police are concerned about the lack of hits yielded by the IBIS system, and there have been problems with the system. Some of these problems are the result of operational failings and others simply the result of circumstance.


Number of Cartridges Stored – No Link to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN): Chapter 2 of 2000 included ‘external safety lock’ requirements and the shell casing identification provision. Gun manufacturers were required to add ‘integrated mechanical safety devices’ to firearms, as well as external safety locks to any firearm sold in Maryland.


These two provisions made up an effort by the General Assembly to make the prospects of accidental shootings less likely. These two mechanical requirements, coupled with the requirement to test-fire the gun and submit the cartridge casings, has effectively reduced the number of firearms sold in the State. While DSP had anticipated 30,000 casings submitted annually from 215 qualifying manufacturers, the number of casings received since October 2001 stands at around 34,000 from only 49 manufacturers.

In essence, the guns most often recovered from crime scenes are not sold in Maryland, and therefore, not linked (via cartridge casing) to the IBIS system. DSP has also indicated that .38 mm revolvers are often used in crimes, and these guns are less likely to leave spent shell casings.

The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) division of the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have a system in place, similar to the Maryland IBIS system. The NIBIN is a system that uses identical technology to IBIS, to create a national database of crime scene shell casings and bullets. However, a memorandum of understanding between the ATF and State and local law enforcement agencies prohibits the linking of NIBIN to any State or local system, such as IBIS. In that the guns used in Maryland crimes are less likely to be sold in Maryland, the inability to link IBIS to NIBIN prevents the largest field of possible matches from being searched.


Time to Crime: The Maryland IBIS system has been in place since October 2000. Criminology research suggests that if a legally obtained firearm is going to enter the stream of criminal activity, it takes between three and six years for this to occur. This ‘time to crime’ statistic indicates that the guns and cartridge casings inventoried in IBIS since 2001 will start to match firearms used in crimes from 2004 to 2007. The statewide deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) inventory saw a similar preliminary waiting period until the number of matches increased dramatically. The DNA database began in 1994, had its first hit in 1998, and has had 72 hits to date. Of these 72 hits, 39 have come in 2003.


Glock Casings Unreliable: It has been learned that cartridge casings submitted by Glock firearms did not match the casings recovered from the same gun at crime scenes. As a result, all cartridge casings submitted by Glock were flagged in the IBIS system, and a list of the guns affected by the problem has been generated. Any firearm sold in Maryland from the list was also flagged. The Glock Company indicated that this problem has since been resolved.


Change in Striations As Firearms Age and Break-in: Research suggests that as firearms age and are broken-in the internal characteristics of the firing pin may change which will result in different striations being left on the spent casings. This makes the casings submitted by the manufacturer less reliable. The more the gun is fired, the more the striations will change.


Modification of Firing Pin by User: Gun users with working knowledge of the assembly process can alter the firing pin of the weapon, which would significantly change the striations left on the cartridge casing.


Different Cartridge Casing Materials Used: There is no standard material used to make cartridge casings. These different materials absorb the striations differently. Additionally, if a different material is used in the manufacture process and by the user, it is possible that a spent cartridge casing will not match the casing stored in IBIS.


Increase in Database Size Decreased Likelihood of “Hit”: As the number of similar guns stored in the database increase, the likelihood of a match decreases. As an example, there are approximately 2,000 cartridge casings from Trooper-issued firearms. Tests have been run, using spent casings from these guns, and the system has not yielded a match in the top 15. However, the more experienced the examiner who inputs the casing, the more likely that the input will be accurate and reflect the unique characteristics of the gun.


Remote IBIS System Failure: DSP purchased a remote IBIS unit to run a search of the found cartridge casings and to submit the findings to the IBIS database to be tested for a match. This device has not worked due to overheating and data transmission problems. The manufacturer has since stopped producing these units. Not only can these casings found at crime scenes not be compared to IBIS while on-site, but DSP cannot link to any other State forensic facility.


Future and Alternatives


A new technology exists to perform a similar task as the IBIS system. This version of nanotechnology creates a ballistic ID or fingerprint on cartridge casings. The technology would create a number or symbol on the firing pin of the weapon, and this marking would be transferred to the cartridge casing each time the gun was fired. However, this technology would have to be done at the manufacturer level and would lead to resistance from the industry. Research suggests, however, that this ballistic fingerprinting method would be less expensive and more accurate than the IBIS, as the “serial number” imprinting removes the subjectivity inherit in digitizing a visual set of striations. DLS recommends that DSP comment on whether, in light of circumstantial difficulties, this program has justified continued operation.




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