By Gary Craig Staff writer
(May 10, 2004) — A state system requiring the ballistics “fingerprinting” of new handguns sold in New York has cost taxpayers millions while doing nothing to solve crimes, a federal lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit challenges the state CoBIS, or Combined Ballistic Identification System, which requires that most new handguns sold in the state be test fired so the state can file specific ballistics information into a database. CoBIS has cost the state more than $12 million and “since inception, not one crime has been solved using the system,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit, filed in late April in U.S. District Court, also seeks to overturn a law placing restrictions on firearms sales at gun shows.
Suing Gov. George Pataki and other state officials are the Shooters’ Committee on Political Education, or SCOPE, the Camillus Sportsman’s Club and the Yates County Federation of Conservation Clubs.
CoBIS has been promoted as a crime-solving technique that can help trace a weapon used in crime through its ballistics “fingerprint” in the state database. But its effectiveness has been under challenge across the country.
Supporters of CoBIS contend that the system is still in its infancy and can’t be expected to show its mettle immediately as a crime-fighting tool.
Opponents say the technology is not yet refined enough to work, and that citizens who buy and sell guns legally will be entered into the state database even though they have no connections with crimes.
“It’s a humongous waste of taxpayers’ money,” said SCOPE President Ken Mathison. “It’s costing the state of New York about $4 million a year.”
Nearly 52,000 guns were registered in the CoBIS system since its inception in March 2001, said State Police spokesman Lt. Glenn Miner.
There have been no “confirmed hits” between registered guns and guns used in crimes, he said.
However, the “time-to-crime” — the period when a gun is legally sold and when it shows up as a crime weapon — can be five to seven years, so CoBIS likely wouldn’t see matches this early, Miner said. Those weapons used in crimes are often stolen or lost firearms.
Gun control advocates see potential in CoBIS. Andy Pelosi, the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, concurred that the system is too young to find many matches with weapons used in crimes. Plus, he said, local law enforcement don’t appear to be using the system extensively.
”If that system’s not being queried on a regular basis, of course you’re not going to get hits,” Pelosi said.
”It has to be more than just a warehouse of shell casings from new handguns sold in New York state.”
At least one experienced firearms investigator questions whether CoBIS is a help or a hindrance to local law enforcement.
Robert Stanton, a firearms examiner at the Monroe County Crime Laboratory, claims in a supporting affidavit in the federal lawsuit that the CoBIS system will be of little help because of the sheer size of the database.
County law enforcement now match the ballistics from crime-scene evidence and the computerized searches “may produce ten comparable matches” with weapons used in previous crimes, Stanton stated.
“Introducing a ballistic data from new gun sales to licensed pistol permit holders throughout New York State would generate false positives, take much more time, and disrupt the entire investigative process,” he said.
Studies of ballistics imaging systems in Maryland and California raised questions about the reliability of the technology.
However, the constitutionality of CoBIS — not its effectiveness — will determine its fate in court. A judge would have to determine that the use of CoBIS illegally extends beyond the prerogative of state lawmakers.
The lawsuit contends that CoBIS violates the privacy of legal gun owners because their names would be connected to firearms that could be used later in crimes.
“What we’re saying is that, for no good reason, you have this database established which permanently connects the pistol purchaser to the pistol,” said lawyer Scott Garretson, who represents SCOPE and the other plaintiffs. “Making (the gun buyer) a potential suspect or ‘person of interest’ to the government is an infringement of constitutional dimensions.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the gun-show legislation, which required background checks for gun sales, is unconstitutionally vague in its description of different “events” covered by the law. “It is capable of sweeping and improper interpretation,” the lawsuit alleges.
”We have no problem with background checks on the sale of firearms through dealers,” said SCOPE President Mathison. But the wording of the statute is so unclear that it could make a private sale between two individuals a criminal act, he said.
The Attorney General’s Office said it could not comment because it had yet to be served with the lawsuit.
CoBIS or Gun "DNA" Watch
Total guns registered in NY as of 5/1/04 = 68,691
Number of guns linked to a crime = 0
Money Spent = $13,000,000 +?
17% of the guns have to be taken to the lab to be shot
It's not about ballistic fingerprinting, it's about A: making (legal) firearms ownership more of a pain in the ass on our part, and B: keeping their(the politicians) buro-buddies employed.
I had to get casings from a single action revolver sent in. like that's going to leave casings behind in a crime. it could, but very unlikely. Plus I'm never going to commit a crime with it at all