- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2015

Maryland has quietly ended a requirement that firearms manufacturers fire their handguns before being sold and submit the “ballistic fingerprints” to state authorities after the program failed to provide investigators with unique data in 15 years.

The Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000 was intended, in part, to provide police investigators with a database of bullet fragments and shell casings to help trace the ownership of handguns used in crimes in the state. Maryland State Police collected and cataloged hundreds of thousands of casings and fragments at a cost of millions of dollars over the past 15 years.

But during that period, the ballistic fingerprints program provided matches in about two-dozen cases in which investigators already had linked a gun to a specific crime using other evidence.

“It’s fair to look at it after 15 years and see how effective it was,” state Attorney General Brian Frosh told The Baltimore Sun. “I don’t have a problem abandoning it.”

The gun safety law’s ballistic fingerprinting provision was repealed Oct. 1, ending the requirement that spent casings be sent to a warehouse beneath Maryland State Police headquarters in Pikesville.

The facility accumulated some 315,000 shell casings over the course of a decade and a half. Until 2007, investigators had photographed each fragment in order to keep records in a digital database that authorities could refer to after recovering spent bullets from crime scenes.

But even after the state agreed to stop funding the photograph aspect of the program eight years ago, state police had continued to receive from gunmakers envelopes full of shell casings until early last month.

Maryland’s General Assembly has authorized the state police to sell off its collection of casings and fragments for scraps, ending an effort that fell all too far from the intended goal of connecting crime scene evidence to the state-run database.

Mr. Frosh, who voted for the gun safety law as a Democratic state senator, told The Sun that he had tried to repeal the ballistic fingerprinting program several times in the past, but was routinely rebuffed by law enforcement officials.

But after state police issued a report last year showing that zero crimes had been solved with the database at a cost of millions of dollars a year, ballistic fingerprinting was taken off the books.

The database “was a waste,” Frank Sloane, owner of Pasadena Gun & Pawn in Anne Arundel County, told the newspaper. “There’s things that they could have done that would have made sense. This didn’t make any sense.”

Gun-control laws passed in 2013 prompted a surge in sales that in turn created a backlog so immense that state police hired eight staffers to organize the 60,000 casings received that year, The Sun reported. Despite an estimated lifetime price tag of $5 million, however, the program matched only 26 firearms to crimes that police already had linked by relying on other evidence.

According to a 2014 state government report, Maryland was the only state with a ballistics fingerprinting program. New York had enacted a similar provision in 2000, but it was repealed in 2012 and its collection system was disbanded.

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