I�ve been participating in a few discussions on American political forums in the last fortnight. One of the big discussion points, given added importance by the Maryland sniper, is the proposal for ballistic fingerprinting of guns. At first glance it certainly sounds like a good idea- every rifled weapon has its own unique signature due to the nature of the machining, imperfections and quirks, all you need to do is keep a central database of these to compare against bullets recovered from crime scenes.

Obviously, the reality isn�t that simple. There are nearly 200 million legal firearms in the United States. Most of them are in the hands of people paranoid about Big Government, who will do everything in their power to block what they see as the first step towards confiscation. Plus, physically, a weapon�s barrel changes over time, and different loads can also affect the fingerprint.

The other big argument from the anti-registration folks is that criminals don�t use guns that were legally acquired. Unless someone has a factory knocking out handguns for the straight-to-the-street market, this means stolen guns. The answer is obvious, a registration system for the ballistic fingerprints of stolen guns.

I propose that every responsible gun owner keeps a few sample rounds from their weapon (using a variety of loads) to be handed over to the Police for ballistic matching if- and only if- the gun is stolen. As rifling etc. changes over time, this could be updated every few months. It’s not as if this is an imposition, these things are bought to shoot with after all.

Until and unless the weapon is stolen the authorities don’t have to know about it- no chance of them using the information to confiscate it. The ballistic fingerprint goes on their list of information about weapons involved in crimes and might prove a valuable lead in a future case. The system isn’t going to give the criminal’s name and address, but it is another little piece of information and a lot of cases- such as the Maryland sniper- hinge on these nuggets.