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A sensible gun law.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The National Rifle Association's new buzz phrase is "incremental gun control." The NRA's supporters and the members of Congress in the gun lobby's thrall somehow have come to believe that "incremental gun control" strikes at the very heart of American liberty and must be resisted at all costs.

Opposition to all sensible gun regulation, incremental or otherwise, has fueled the NRA's largely successful efforts to make sure that nothing stands in the way of virtually anyone obtaining virtually any kind of gun imaginable, from the high-capacity, semiautomatic pistols favored by urban gangs to the Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle that can penetrate steel from more than a mile away.

The latest common sense initiative to earn the dreaded "incremental gun control" label is a technology known as microstamping, which uses laser engraving to etch unique identifying markings onto the firing mechanisms of handguns. The etchings are transferred to cartridge casings when the gun is fired, allowing police to match empty bullet casings found at a crime scene to the weapon that fired them.

The NRA has gone to full battle stations to oppose micro-stamping because California already has passed a law, signed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that requires all new semiautomatic pistols sold in the state to employ microstamping, starting in 2010. Not only has the NRA's usually irresistible money and lobbying clout failed to forestall microstamping in the nation's most populous state, but Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., have introduced legislation that would require gun microstamping nationwide.

Microstamping allows law enforcement agencies to match cartridges found at a crime scene to the last registered owner of the weapon. This also creates a way to track the illegal trade in guns and to deter purchases by intermediaries who intend to sell the guns illegally.

In addition, microstamping is inexpensive to implement and very reliable as an ownership identification tool. Despite the NRA's ferocious opposition, nothing about microstamping interferes with gun ownership rights or limits access to any type of weapon.

Neither the California law nor the national bill have any effect on guns manufactured before 2010. There's no mandate to retrofit existing weapons.

Microstamping isn't foolproof, and the NRA has gone to great lengths to highlight its limitations. Microstamped firing pins can be removed or defaced. The logical response to that is: so what? Existing laws against defacing a firearm's serial number can be ignored, as can laws against modifying weapons to fire on full automatic.

The NRA warns that a black market could develop for discarded gun casings from firing ranges, which could be left at a crime scene to throw police off and implicate innocent people.

Again, so what? The gun trade is rife with black and gray markets designed to circumvent the few weak laws already on the books. Firing ranges may need to develop simple procedures to account for spent brass.

But some of the NRA's criticisms simply serve to underscore the organization's fanatical opposition to any form of gun regulation, no matter what the social costs would be.

The NRA warns that microstamping may increase gun thefts, home invasions and other burglaries, because criminals would rather steal guns than buy them legally and thus leave a trail in a microstamp database. It's better, says the NRA's gun-loving logic, for would-be criminals to be able to buy guns at Wal-Mart than for police to be able to identify the ownership of guns used in violent crimes.

That's absurd. Microstamping is a small, sensible step toward establishing stronger links between guns and their owners while giving law enforcement another useful tool.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Microstamping will help police solve violent crimes
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 22, 2008
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