- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

The Bush administration yesterday said it is uncomfortable with the philosophy and technology behind a ballistic fingerprinting system that some are calling to be used in investigations into such crimes as the sniper attacks around Washington.
"The real issue is values, and that's what is at stake here," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "These are the acts of a depraved killer who has broken and will continue to break laws. And so the question is not new laws; the question is the actions here represent values in our society."
Some gun-control advocates have argued that a nationwide ballistic fingerprint program, which would require a fired bullet and cartridge casings from firearms sales to be cataloged, would help investigators.
After recovering a spent casing or fired bullet used in a crime, investigators would track down the firearms dealer and obtain the buyer's information much the same way they operate today if they recover a firearm linked to a crime. Federal law prohibits a national registry of firearms owners.
Mr. Fleischer said questions have been raised about gun owners' rights as well as the technical accuracy of such a ballistics system, which he compared to human fingerprinting.
"There are law-abiding Americans and then there are criminals. And just as if you were to fingerprint every single law-abiding American, it might give you a helpful clue to determine who engaged in a robbery or in a theft. Do you want to apply that across the board for every instance?" he asked.
"The president does believe that law-abiding citizens have the right to bear arms," he said.
Meanwhile, the House in a voice vote yesterday passed a bill to authorize spending $1.1 billion in federal funds to help states computerize records for the instant-check system required under the Brady Bill for new firearms purchases.
As he introduced the bill, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, charged that Maryland had weakened the national background check system for firearms sales. The state, citing a lack of funds, for six months this year failed to conduct archival checks of criminal records. Mr. Sensenbrenner sent a letter to the General Accounting Office yesterday asking for an investigation into how Maryland spent $6.7 million allocated during the last several years to improve its criminal history records.
"Maryland's failure affects every state because a Maryland felon might, for example, try to illegally buy a gun in Virginia. If the Maryland State Archives refuses to search its criminal history records, Maryland felons can purchase guns that they are otherwise prohibited from purchasing," Mr. Sensenbrenner said. He said Maryland is the only state to refuse to participate.
Matt Bennett, spokesman for Americans for Gun Safety, said he didn't know enough about the specifics of the complaint, but said, "I think it can be fairly summarized as gubernatorial politics."
On the ballistic fingerprint issue, Mr. Bennett urged the president to reconsider, and he pointed to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms report from May that said models for ballistic fingerprinting on handguns show that such a system would provide "invaluable information" to law enforcement.
"Everything Ari Fleischer said today about ballistic fingerprinting is squarely contradicted by a report that his own administration issued this year. Ballistic fingerprinting works, and it works well. And ATF has said so," Mr. Bennett said.

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