Alec Hamilton, Assistant Producer, WNYC News
Alec Hamilton is an Assistant Producer in the WNYC newsroom. She produces Morning Edition and starts her work day very, very early.
In all the uproar over the New York Senate voting on important things like gay marriage and state vegetables, one important piece of legislation was left to languish. A bill to require guns sold or manufactured in New York be equipped with microstamping technology was a quiet casualty of the Senate session that just ended.
The bill, which passed the Assembly, would mean that guns made or sold in New York would stamp the casing of each bullet they fired with a code that would indicate where the gun was purchased and who the initial buyer was. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a big supporter of the bill, legislation of this type can only be passed at the state-level, not the city-level. So when the Senate failed to vote on the measure, the effort went on hold until the next session.
A New York Magazine article from 2005 says that almost 4.5 million people own guns in New York State, approximately 50,000 of whom are residents of New York City.
Supporters say the bill would help fight crime, providing police with valuable information. An op-ed written by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman claims that a microstamped casing at a crime scene raises the police’s chance of identifying the gun used to 54%, from the 2% chance they have with existing technology. The op-ed said that more than 100 New York mayors and more than 80 police departments and law enforcement organizations statewide have endorsed microstamping legislation.
Opponents of the measure say that the technology is flawed, that stamps may not be legible, that the stamping mechanism on the firing pin could be filed off, and that the requirement would raise the cost of guns to legitimate gun owners.
Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation issued a statement last year opposing microstamping.
"Compelling the use of this unreliable patented sole-sourced technology will result in a ban on firearms for law-abiding consumers in the Empire State," said Keane.
"Many manufacturers will choose to abandon the New York market rather than incur substantial costs associated with complying with microstamping legislation, which would include purchasing (at monopolistic prices) very expensive equipment and patented technology and completely redesigning their manufacturing processes, plant and equipment.”
A 2006 study of microstamping by UC Davis in California found that the costs to manufacturers would actually not be substantial. The machines to do the altering were estimated to be about $250 each, with each one capable of manufacturing hundreds of thousands of firing pins each year.
The UC Davis study found that microstamping technology did not work completely with all firearms and was possible to file off. The study recommended against the state of California adopting a mandate that all semiautomatic handguns be microstamped. The study, often cited by opponents of microstamping, found that because the technology did not work well in all semiautomatic handguns, a mandate to implement it in all semiautomatic handguns was not recommended. Instead the study called for more research and development.
Ralph E. Karanian, Chief Operating Officer of Kimber Manufacturing, a firearms company in Yonkers, New York, didn't want to venture a guess on what the costs of microstamping might be for his plant. He said that he supports federally funded studies to establish the effectiveness and viability of the technology.
"All we know is what we see presented in studies and so forth. We know that we don't know enough about it. We believe that no one has shown that microstamping technology works effectively."
Pressed on whether anything that deterred gun crime wouldn't be embraced by an industry that wants to be viewed as legitimate and law-abiding, Mr. Karanian said "Anyone involved in manufacturing is very supportive of creating an environment that allows for the safe use of handguns."
One big argument that the opponents of microstamping put forward is cost. They worry that the patented microstamping technology would become a monopoly, and that even if it didn't, the costs of adding the equipment to firearms factories would be so high that manufacturers would flee the state, rather than comply.
Todd Lizotte of ID Dynamics is the patent holder for microstamping technology. Lizotte scoffed at the concerns that implementing the technology as part of the manufacturing process would drive up costs to unsustainable levels, saying the technology used is the same technology currently used to make nozzle plates for ink jet cartridges. He said he has offered the use of the patent, royalty free, a claim that bears out in the documents for and against microstamping used as evidence in legislative deliberations over the measure in Wisconsin. He professed not to know the exact costs but said his best estimate put the costs at minimal.
"On a per-gun basis, in quantities of 10,000, there should be only a couple of dollars in added costs."
A person knowledgeable about handgun manufacturer says that mass-market firearms manufacturers sell, on average, around 300,000 firearms in a year. Lisotte says most manufacturers subcontract out the firing pins, rather than producing them in house, though calls to several manufacturers did not confirm that statement.
Chuck Ratermann, with RPMC laser micro machining in Missouri, said he estimates a system that would etch the firing pins would quickly amortize its costs. "A system to do something like this, it's a lot of fine work. I'd probably cost about a half-a-million to a million for the station. It shouldn't take too much infrastructure."
Dr. Ronald D. Schaeffer, Ph.D., the Chief Executive Officer of Photomachining Inc, which manufacturers this sort of equipment, guesses it might be a little lower.
"I am really not sure about the details, but I think I would put a tag of $300k on the system."