Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 23, 2002
POLITICS/LAW: Gun Fingerprints

Dave Kopel & Paul Blackman, writing on NRO, argue that the proposal for gun barrel 'fingerprinting,' which has gained some cache from the DC sniper case, is impractical and dangerous. Their arguments are worth considering at some length for what they do and don't prove.

Starting first with the latter argument, Kopel & Blackman contend that (1) fingerprinting in advance, as opposed to after an arrest is made, will only be useful if accompanied by universal gun registration (since otherwise you can ID the gun after the fact but you can't trace it), which is largely true; (2) gun registration is dangerous to gun rights and politically impossible because many gun control proponents see it as a first step to seizures and it would make seizure more feasible. I don't buy this. People register their land, their cars, and their children with the government without fear of seizure. The motives of some extremists, which they seek to prove with a 25-year-old quotation, are irrelevant: confiscation is truly politically impossible as well as unconstitutional under the Second, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (guns are property, too, after all). Moreover, leaving aside for the moment the source of any federal authority to register all guns, a federal registration requirement could be drafted by Congress in a way that would effectively commit the federal government - above and beyond the Fifth Amendment -- to pay money damages to all registered gun owners if their guns were outlawed. The added guarantee of fiscal apocalypse would provide additional reason for gun owners to see that regulation would not lead to confiscation.

(I leave out the question of federal authority because the same could be done by state governments as well. One way to implement such a proposal would be for the feds to require 'fingerprinting' of guns manufactured for interstate shipment and a record of who the gun was sold to, which is not so far from current law and which would have the additional benefit of aiding in the tracking of how legally manufactured guns get sold illegally; the states could be left to choose whether to take the follow-up step of then also registering the owner himself).

Kopel and Blackman also, however, present an impressive battery of arguments, most of which I'm not really qualified to evaluate, as to why ballistic fingerprinting is limited in its usefulness. Some of these points are underwhelming -- the fact that such a system won't catch ALL gun crimes is not really an answer, as long as it would catch enough to justify the expense -- but the overall picture of a system that would be expensive and cumbersome without providing a whole lot of bang for the buck is a serious charge, and one to which policymakers have to give real consideration.

As I've said before, I don't buy into the ideology of gun ownership as being necessarily protected by unique privacy interests or immune to reasonable regulations, particularly when those regulations ensure that any organizable militia is "well-regulated" by the State, and I don't see this type of regulation as a threat to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But, as with any government regulation, cost-benefit analysis has to be applied before we turn the heated rhetoric of a particular election-season crisis into a permanent bureaucratic program.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:27 PM | Law 2002-04 • | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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