Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Todd Lizotte Interview: Pre-Production

Todd Lizotte, "co-inventor" of Microstamping technology, replied to my initial interview questions (submitted via email) with a short note in my Comments. According to Mr. Lizotte, he has been "de-compressing" from a few weeks of business trips. However, he has been working on the questions and promises to reply to them this week.

I'm grateful to Mr. Lizotte for his willingness to reply to many controversial (and often technical) questions.

After I had sent my initial questions, it occurred to me that I didn't really address the issue which prompted his original note to me.

Here is the outline which I had proposed in my email to him:

If I correctly understand your position (compared with mine), you take exception to two issues which I mentioned:
1) you object to my assertion that Microstamping is confused with
"cartridge/bullet serialization";
2) Microstamping technology is mis-perceived as 'requiring a national database" to be effective, which I have mis-characterized in my article.

I did respond to the first part by comparing and contrasting my own definitions of "Microstamping Ammunition" and "Encoding Ammunition" . (Essentially, one involves modifications to the firearm to stamp code on the base of the cartridge during firing; the other involves micro-engraving code on the base of the bullet and/or on the inside of the cartridge case during manufacture of the ammunition).

However, I never did actually address the "National Database" question. Instead, I launched directly into my own set of questions and scenarios for his consideration.

I'll perhaps publish the LONG list of interview questions in another article, but I've neglected to stay On Subject in regards to the second part.

In hopes that I can revisit that question for his later consideration, I'll print here the response I should have sent him in my April 13, 2008 email:

Microstamping Ammunition Will Require a National Database
Mr. Lizotte,
if I correctly understand the code which would be stamped on fired ammunition, it will (according to the information provided on the Industrial Laser Solutions Article titled "Fighting Crime with Laser Engraving"), provide codes for the following data points:

  • The Make (manufacturer, eg: "Smith and Wesson" or "SW") of the firearm;
  • The Model (eg: Model 10, or "10") of the firearm;
  • The manufacturer's unique serial number of the firearm (eg: "1234")
Under the hypothetical scenario wherein a microstamped cartridge case is found at the scene of a crime, and in keeping with your published claim that the purpose of microstamping ammunition with this date is "Fighting Crime", the police are left with with the minimal data "SW10/1234". This information, we presume, will lead the police to the person who fired a weapon at a crime scene.

My question is: what are the police to do with this information?

There is currently no national registry of firearms available to police to identify the current owner of "the Smith & Wesson Model 10 Pistol, serial number 1234".

NICS Data Not Available:
Granted, when a firearms is originally purchased from a dealer, federal law (under the original "Brady Bill", HR1024) requires that this information be gathered along with information uniquely identifying the purchaser. (I note that the original bill mandated a 5-day waiting period, but this provision was later obviated when the National Instant Check System was established.)

Under the updated regulations, ALL information about this purchasing transaction must be destroyed within 24 hours of confirmation that the transaction is legal.

Therefore, the National Instant Check System is specifically not permitted available to serve as a National Registry of firearms purchases.

In point of fact, no firearms registry database is available at a federal level. Some states and municipalities have attempted to establish a 'local' registry, with various levels of success. A case in point is the notorious 1989 California registry of 'assault' firearms, which later resulted in uncompensated confiscations.

(I note in passing that this 2005 article discusses both microstamping and bullet encoding in California, and appears to equate the two technologies. This is probably the cause of your original complaint that I have blurred the line between the two, and you are right; the article does discuss both technologies as if they are one and the same. I accept Mea Maxima Culpa for not intelligently discussing the two as separate processes.)

Firearms owners have recent history of abuse by authorities of any firearms registration, because it is more often a resource for confiscation than for crime solving. Other states and localities (county and municipal level) have enacted similar schemes, which may involve licenses required for purchase of firearms, but which are ipso facto registry of firearms and are not supported by Federal law.

The applicable Federal law is, in fact, the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States; and while one may consider this reference to be a biased personal interpretation of a controversial "Right", I note that the Supreme Court of the United States is currently reconsidering this interpretation in the "DC v HELLER" case. It should not be dismissed as a parochial concern at least until the final vote is tallied.

In point of fact, given the history of "Registration Equals Confiscation" in this country, the chances are that the SCOTUS decision may never permit the establishment of a reference database where "SW10/1234" is sufficient to determine the original owner of a "Smith and Wesson Model 10, Serial Number 1234".

If so, then there is absolutely no justification for Microstamping of Ammunition for investigative purpose; it would only be useful if the firearms in question is found, and further analysis can establish that it will reliably stamp the same ammunition on a cartridge which is physically similar to the cartridge found at the scene of the crime.

One might be excused for supposing that other technical processes which are already available to Police Forensic Laboratories (bullet striations, for example) will prove to be more useful in a court of law to prove that the bullet was fired from the subject handgun.

UPDATE: 23-APR-2008
Edited to correct errors in grammar and sentence construction; also cosmetic improvements.

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