Imagine if every bullet had its own unique mark that showed what gun it was fired from. How would that change police investigations, and could it stem the country's gun violence?
That's exactly what California wants to find out with a law going into effect that requires new semiautomatic pistols to use "microstamping" technology that links bullets to guns. In theory, law enforcement could trace every bullet fired to the pistol -- and its registered owner -- without ever having to see the weapon itself.
But there's a big problem with the law, according to Gunmakers, which say the technology doesn't work well. Smith & Wesson says it will not use microstamping, and as a result says it will stop selling most of its semi-automatic handguns in California.
"A number of studies have indicated that microstamping is unreliable, serves no safety purpose, is cost prohibitive and, most importantly, is not proven to aid in preventing or solving crimes," the gun manufacturer said in a statement.
Microstamping works like this: A pistol has a tiny series of numbers printed inside it that identifies the make, model and serial number of the gun. Those numbers must be printed in at least two places inside the gun. When the weapon is fired, those numbers are imprinted on the cartridge case that holds the bullet.
"I think it is one of these things in law enforcement that would take us from the Stone Age to the jet age in an instant," the commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department told The New York Times in 2012. "I just can't comprehend the opposition to it."
But gun advocates say that many crimes are committed with stolen guns, which makes the whole point of tracing moot.
Still, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California's microstamping legislation back in 2007. The state's Department of Justice took years to certify the law, PC Magazine reports, and now it can move forward.
Smith & Wesson does make a California-compliant version of its M&P Shield and SDVE pistols, and said both are expected to begin shipping in 90 days and should offset the impact of pulling some models from the shelves. All of its other M&P pistols other than the Shield will not be sold in the state after August.
Gun control advocates said the company is overreacting. "Smith & Wesson's statement represents the same hysterical reaction that we have come to expect from the gun lobby every time a new safety standard is required by California law," Cody Jacobs, attorney with The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told CBS News.
Sturm Ruger also said that some of its pistols will not be sold in California in the future because of the microstamping requirements.
Gunmakers are worried about microstamping laws spreading to other parts of the country. The District of Columbia passed a law requiring microstamping, but has postponed implementation until 2016.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit asking to invalidate the law has been filed by the National Shooting Sports Association and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute. That lawsuit is working its way through the courts.
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