Maryland Stockpiles Pistol Brass: To What End?
March 03, 2015
Jeff Cooper said that casings are for sausages, cases are for ammunition, so it's always annoying to read a news account that talks about "shell casings" or worse, "bullet casings." But let's choke down our distaste and contemplate the state of Maryland's registry of fired pistol brass. For 15 years, every new pistol sold in the state has had to come with a fired case that is submitted to the state for reference. The Annapolis Capital-Gazette reports the state is now sitting on 315,000 cases, and is running out of warehouse space to store them.
The program was touted with the impressive name "ballistic fingerprinting," and was confidently predicted to solve vast numbers of crimes. The gun industry and gun owners pointed out the many obvious flaws in the idea, but Maryland is one of those states where kicking the gun owner around is always good politics, so it was enacted in 2000.
The results? Exactly as predicted by our side. Actually, it has probably been a bit worse than predicted by our side. The program has connected 26 cases to guns under investigation, meaning the program yielded less than two matches a year.
Maryland had planned to use a fancy imaging machine to speed comparison of cases, but, as the Capital-Gazette reported, that didn't work out.
"But Maryland's imaging software didn't work. Officials were sold a machine that didn't 'function as designed,' according to a state police report on the project released in September.
"Daniel Katz, the state police forensic sciences director, said 'It wasn't as accurate as we needed it to be.'
"He said he couldn't go into details on why the imaging software didn't work as intended, but the machine stopped functioning in April 2007. The division scrapped the imaging database — archiving what it had — and canceled that portion of the program in 2008.
The plan was to find another machine, but the funding wasn't there, Katz said."
Some members of the state legislature are suggesting Maryland follow the example of New York, which scrapped its "ballistic fingerprinting" program in 2012, with no apparent negative effect on crime solving.
Katz opposed killing the program, saying, "When casings are available for forensic analysis, they are an essential piece of evidence in these types of prosecutions." Repealing the program "would hinder our ability to identify shell casings found at crime scenes and match them to suspects."
Sounds like it would hinder that less than twice a year, maybe, and it would let forensic technicians do some forensics instead of building a vast, pointless catalog of pistol brass.
But as former President Ronald Reagan memorably put it, "The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program."