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Protect Public Safety With Microstamping

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This post was written with John Feinblatt, New York City's Criminal Justice Coordinator:

There is no greater responsibility for our State and City governments than protecting public safety.

As policy makers, we are not on the front lines of the fight against violent criminals. But to the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line each and every day, we have a duty to give them every tool they need to bring criminals to justice.

Currently, when police arrive at the scene of a shooting, often the only clues left behind are the victims and the spent shell casings on the pavement. The ballistics technology that police in New York State currently use to analyze those shell casings is of limited value unless they've already recovered the crime gun. That leaves a gap in the evidence that makes it harder to solve the crime.

This week, politics came before public safety when the Senate missed an opportunity to give law enforcement a new way to bridge that gap: it's called microstamping.

We are calling for a new vote in the Senate before the end of the current session, and we'll keep the pressure on until we win.

Microstamping technology imprints a unique code onto the shell casing when a handgun is fired. Police can read the code and learn the gun's serial number, make and model, helping them identify its original owner. Even though the original owner might not be connected to the crime, this clue can help police follow the gun's chain of custody, and perhaps lead them to the identity of the shooter.

In other cases, this information might lead police back to traffickers who buy guns legally and then illegally resell them, or to thieves who steal guns from their lawful owners to sell on the street. Shutting these criminals down is critical to keeping illegal guns out of criminal hands.

This technology isn't foolproof, but if police find three microstamped shell casings at a crime scene, they'll be able to identifying the gun 90 percent of the time. That success rate means faster investigations, which could save lives by taking armed and dangerous criminals off the streets more quickly.

We can all agree that police should be able to trace crime guns to help them apprehend criminals - what microstamping will help us do is make the existing system of crime gun tracing as effective as possible. That's why opposing microstamping is like opposing DNA or even fingerprinting as a way to solve crimes. These tools simply give law enforcement another way to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent.

Microstamping technology is inexpensive, and it's designed to be tamper-proof and invisible to the user. And like other measures we've used to combat gun crime, it will not hamper the rights of lawful gun owners. In fact, it won't even apply to rifles, shotguns, or revolvers. The legislation passed by the New York State Assembly would only require microstamping technology in newly-sold semiautomatic handguns--the types of guns most commonly used in crimes.

Now we must secure enough support for a new vote in the Senate.

New Yorkers might be skeptical that even such common sense legislation can overcome the partisan gridlock that has become synonymous with Albany in the last decade. We know all too well that cooperation across the aisle on criminal justice policy can be rare. But microstamping is not a partisan issue.

There is no disagreement between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to violent gun crime: the perpetrators must be caught, vigorously prosecuted, and incarcerated.

Microstamping is a powerful tool to help achieve that goal. That's why 100 New York State members of the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and 83 police departments and law enforcement organizations throughout New York State stand behind this legislation. And that's why Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a similar microstamping law in California. This is a tool that our law enforcement officers need to keep us safe.

It's time to put politics aside and put public safety first. It's time to pass microstamping in New York State.


Senator Eric T. Schneiderman is the lead sponsor of the microstamping bill in the state Senate

John Feinblatt is the New York City Criminal Justice Coordinator in the Bloomberg Administration