Sunday, April 20, 2008

Microstamping Ammunition: Rhode Island

Introduced By: Representatives Almeida, Ajello, Williams, Diaz, and Giannini
Date Introduced: February 26, 2008
Referred To: House Judiciary

In another of a continuing series of moves by state legislatures to impose 'gun control' by proposing unnecessary restrictions on either firearms or ammunition manufacture, the Rhode Island House has presented (as of February, 2008) a bill to require semi-automatic pistols to 'stamp' identifying characters on every round of ammunition fired.

(This information from a NRA Alert.)

This bill came before the House Committee on Judiciary this week, where it will either be passed back to the House for a vote and then advance to the Senate for consideration, or it will 'die in committee'.

This latter result is much preferred by honest gun owners; criminals, of course, don't care. They won't be using firearms which they purchased under their own name from retailers, so microstamped ammunition left at the scene of a crime will never be traced back to them.

However, the provisions of the bill present some sticky legal and logistical problems for honest gun owners. (Most of the problems are not unique to the Rhode Island bill, but instead are typical of all Microstamping Ammunition bills so far presented by state legislatures.)

House Bill 7834 includes the following considerations:
11-47-63. Microstamping capability of semiautomatic weapons required.
(a) All semiautomatic weapons as defined in section 11-47-2 manufactured or delivered to any licensed dealer within the state shall be capable of microstamping ammunition.
(b) For purposes of subsection (a), a semiautomatic weapon is capable of microstamping ammunition if:
(1) a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the firearm is etched into the firing pin and the breech face of the semiautomatic weapon; and
(2) when ammunition is fired from the semiautomatic weapon, the characters are copies from the firing pin and the breech face onto the cartridge case of the ammunition.
(c) Subsection (a) shall apply only to semiautomatic weapons which are manufactured or imported into the state on or after the effective date of this subsection.
(d) Whoever violates subsection (a) shall be fined an amount equal to:
(1) in the case of a first such violation by the violator, one thousand dollars ($1,000) multiplied by the number of semiautomatic weapons involved in the violation;
(2) in the case of a second violation by the violator, two thousand dollars ($2,000) multiplied by the number of semiautomatic weapons involved in the violation;
(3) in the case of a third such violation by the violator, three thousand dollars ($3,000) multiplied by the number of semiautomatic weapons involved in the violation.
I'm sure that before they sponsored the bill, Rhode Island State Representatives Almeida, Ajello, Williams, Diaz, and Giannini studied the bill carefully, discussed the ramifications with their constituents, researched the available documentation to determine the feasibility of the technology, and consulted a Focus Group of gun owners to investigate the possible negative ramifications of this bill before they sponsored it.

(If you live in Rhode Island, please feel free to click on the above contact-links for these Sponsoring State Representatives and voice your support for their willingness to impose non-judicial penalties on your Second Amendment Rights.)

I'm also sure that pigs can fly politicians are universally honest and caring people who would allow themselves to 'look bad' to the (democratic party supporting ... see links to RI House web pages above) Main Stream Media rather than to propose a bill which would present an ipso facto end-run on the Constitution of the United States.

However, it may prove useful to Rhode Island residents who own guns or who are considering gun ownership to pay careful attention to the implications of this bill.

First, note that subparagraph (b)(1) requires that:
a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the firearm is etched into the firing pin and the breech face of the semiautomatic weapon

Now consider that both the firing pin and the breech face must perform the required microstamping. That is expressly required by subparagraph (b) (2):
when ammunition is fired from the semiautomatic weapon, the characters are copies from the firing pin and the breech face onto the cartridge case of the ammunition.

However if for ANY reason the microstamping phenomena is not evinced upon both the primer and the 'breach face [of] the cartridge case', the person who fired the firearm, or the person who owns the firearm (this point of law is not discussed in the bill) may be subject to fines in the amount of $1,000, $2,000, or $5,000, depending upon circumstances.

Let's look at some real-life examples of firearms usage, to gain some perspective.

IF you are at the range shooting your semi-automatic pistol in, say, a Practical Pistol match and your firing pin bends, breaks or is otherwise determined to be unserviceable, by current law you can simply replace the non-functioning firing pin and continue shooting.

However under the proposed bill, any replacement firing pin must reliably perform the microstamping function, which implies that you must have in your immediate possession a firing pin which has been endowed with the mystical ability to emboss sufficient data to legally identify the firearm.

Is it legal for you to own two (or more) such firing pins? We don't know.

What is the cost of obtaining a 'backup' firing pin which meets the legal requirements?
We don't know, but we doubt that it compares favorably with the (approximately, determined by several marketing and technological factors which have not been identified) $10 each for a 'competitive' semi-automatic pistol.

Both the firing pin and the breech face of your semi-automatic pistol are subject to wear, and to the accumulation of powder residue and, yes, even small flakes of brass which are typically worn from the cartridge during normal usage.

What happens if the integrity of the firing pin and/or the breech face are compromised, either from the accumulation of such detritus during a days usage or because you are negligent in performing a regular regimen of cleaning your pistol? Are you subject to fine because your gun is dirty? We don't know, but if your firearm is tested and it is determined that it will not meet the requirements of subparagraph (b)(2), then you are personally responsible.

Are you subject to fine? We don't know.

How will this inability to meet the minimal microstamping requirements' be audited?
We don't know.

Will there be Firing Pin Patrols regularly conducted by State Police for the sole purpose of determining whether your pistol meets the state regulatory requirements of Microstamping Ammunition
We don't know.

Any law which does not include enforcement is unenforceable. There are no provisions in this bill which would either define the enforcement requirements, or provide funding for such enforcement. There are no provisions for acknowledging that the physical erosion or obfuscation of microstamping mechanisms may make it either impossible or minimally problematic for the firearm owner to meet, so if the technology fails it is not the fault of the (sole-source) provider but it is definitively the fault of the firearms owner ... or the person who is using the firearm (and is not the owner).

Which again emphasizes that responsibility is not defined in the case where the person using the non-microstamping firearm is not the owner. Who is responsible for personally checking that the microstamping function actually works on a given firearm?
That's right, you got it in one: We don't know.

The reliability of the technology is merely problematic. However, the composition of the bill is obviously flawed in that it does not address several issues relating to maintenance, servicing and replacement parts of the firearm. Also, enforcement is not addressed other than the imposition of fines ... on someone; who, we don't know.

Last week, we reported that (in response to an earlier article referencing Microstamping Ammunition), we received a comment from Todd Lizotte. Mr. Lozotte is the self-professed 'inventor' of the "Microstamping Ammunition" technology. He took exception fo a confusion which he identified between "Microstamping Ammunition" and "Encoded Ammunition". He offered to discuss the issues.

(The first refers to the ability to cause a firearm to stamp an unique code on a physical aspect of a cartridge case or primer when a cartidge is fired from a gun; the second refers to ammunition which is stamped with identifying codes during the manufacturing process and which makes no attempt to identify the firing gun, but instead identifies the purchaser of the ammunition purchased at the retail level.)

In my reply, I acknowledged that Mr. Lizotte's were justified, identified several issues which were unique to "Microstamping Ammunition", and invited him to respond via email to any or all of the specific concerns which I cited.

I have not yet received any reply from Mr. Lizotte. Well, he is a busy man and probably doesn't have time in his work-day to defend the technology which he has invented. To assume otherwise would suggest that there are political, societal or user-concerns which he would rather not address.

I remain convinced that his failure to follow up on his promise to "reply to questions" is fully justified by his busy work schedule, and not by any desire to avoid the questions which have been presented to him.

UPDATE: May 19, 2008
From an NRA Alert dated May 02, 2008:
Friday, May 02, 2008

Please Contact the Members of the Committee Today!

House Bill 7834, the "microstamping" proposal sponsored by State Representatives Joseph Almeida (D-12), Edith Ajello (D-3), Anastasia Williams (D-9), Grace Diaz (D-11), and Joanne Giannini (D-7) has been referred to the House Finance Committee after being pulled from the agenda of the House Judiciary Committee. Sensing a possible lack of support in the Judiciary Committee, typically the panel with expertise on firearms-related legislation, the bill's sponsors had it referred to another committee where H7834 could get a hearing and be voted on at any time.

Its companion bill, Senate Bill 2720, introduced by State Senators Harold Metts (D-6), Juan Pichardo (D-2) and Paul Jabour (D-5), is being held up for further study in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

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