- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

What can you say about someone who declares hunting season on humans, making target practice of an innocent teenager?

"I am God," the sniper proclaims. Excuse me? More like Satan.

And anyone who knows anything about tarot cards knows that pulling the Death card actually signifies new blessings and beginnings. If we know only one thing about this sadistic shooter, it's that he knows nothing of the divine but a whole lot about the demonic.

This assailant is not sick, as some have suggested, but is just plain evil. He is possessed not of a psychological problem but a moral problem.

Unfortunately, this sniper is not alone. With so many crazies and criminals taking their personal problems out on the public, it would help if law enforcement officials had more tools at their disposal to assist in solving these sinister outbreaks more quickly.

One such tool the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which is used by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in conjunction with the similar Integrated Ballistic Identification System has been available for several years.

Yet this crime-solving technology, which makes digital impressions of bullets and cartridge cases, is not used to its optimum potential primarily because it is caught in the political cross fire between gun rights and gun control advocates.

Joe D'Angelo, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), declined to discuss the politics or the legislation dealing with "ballistic fingerprinting," as it is commonly called because it resembles the computerized database of fingerprints used by the FBI.

However, he noted that the agency's Web site, www.atf.treas.gov, includes a long list of "success stories" resulting from the ATF's NIBIN program, which is used by 235 police departments across the country.

While NIBIN doesn't replace a firearms examiner, Mr. D'Angelo said, "it brings you to a mostly likely match" between bullets and weapons.

"It's a resource that allows firearms experts to compare ballistics against a large body of potential evidence in a short time," he said.

Officer Joyce Utter, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Police Department, agreed, saying that ballistics identification technology has been used to link several cases in the recent rash of sniper attacks in our area.

"It's a great tool, and if we did have a nationwide database maybe we could solve more crimes and get more guns off the street," she said.

Officer Utter said investigators know the caliber of the bullets used in the sniper attacks but don't know which weapon the sniper has used because several different models of firearms can use that caliber of ammunition.

Maryland and New York are the only two states that require gun manufacturers to keep records of ballistics marking along with serial numbers of new handguns after test firing. An effort for similar legislation in New Jersey failed in 2000.

In a prepared statement issued after the sixth of the snipers attacks, Sarah Brady of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence praised the few laws on ballistics fingerprinting but pointed out their limitations, including their application only to handguns.

"Sensible gun laws can help law enforcement solve crimes as well as prevent gun violence," she said. "Doesn't it make sense for us to give law enforcement the tools they need in order to solve such crimes?"

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association was unavailable for comment yesterday.

However, gun rights proponents have argued that reliance on ballistics fingerprinting is costly and ineffective because only new guns are tested and "fingerprinted," not the millions of guns already in circulation in the country. In addition, the matches lead back only to the first sale of a weapon, not subsequent possessions.

For my money, this tool at least gives investigators a head start.

Help me understand: You need a license to hunt, but you don't need a license for the gun to hunt with?

Gun rights advocates are wary of any type of national licensing, databases or registry because they don't trust what the government might do with the information, so Congress prohibits such a measure.

It is futile to debate the merits of gun control legislation in connection with the sniper attacks that have dramatically altered everyday life for Washington-area residents. Most of the hard-won firearms legislation is shot full of loopholes and aims at handguns and assault weapons, not rifles.

Though it's something I dislike, I respect the rights of anyone who makes sport of hunting. Animals, of course, not people. Why else anyone would need a gun is beyond me, though I have a dear friend who tries to persuade me to buy one for protection, he says, given how much I run my mouth in print and in public.

Nonetheless, we must rekindle the debate about a national gun registry and licensing system, in addition to enhancing the existing national ballistics identification system. Then perhaps all the law enforcement agencies would have one more small tool in their arsenal to catch a sadistic sniper who has declared open season on humans.

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