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The pseudo-science fiction of ballistics fingerprinting

By Clive Edwards
web posted December 20, 2004

Norman Inkster, former RCMP commissioner from 1987 to 1994 and president of Interpol from 1992 to 1994 believes Canada (nay, the world) needs firearms cartridge case registration. So called "ballistic fingerprinting" would require all firearms owners to submit their firearms to authorities for test firing in order to create a database of scratches, dents and rifling marks associated with a particular gun and a particular gun owner. The concept was developed by a Canadian firm who sell their software to gullible police departments in 31 countries (probably with grants from the Canadian government).

Rifling left on a .22 caliber bullet
Rifling left on a .22 caliber bullet

The efficacy of ballistics fingerprinting has been disproved yet Mr. Inkster, ever the consummate bureaucrat, still champions the cause. Why doesn't ballistics fingerprinting work? Because simply changing four uncontrolled spare parts -- firing pin, barrel, extractor and ejector -- change the ballistic fingerprint totally; there is no remnant of any original trace of the sample. Equally effective for those less concerned with the accuracy and collector value of their firearm is to spend a few minutes with a file on the affected parts and thereby change the "fingerprint".

Ballistic fingerprinting also requires used cases to be found at the crime scene. Since revolvers don't spit out empties, and single shot firearms and manually operated repeating guns only eject when the action is cycled in preparation for the second shot, a great many firearms would not leave any cases behind. As well, any concerned gangster need only stoop to pick up the empties, or hire an assistant to "police the brass". Mr. Inkster believes such a registry could cost less than twenty million dollars a year, or about ten times more than the current firearms act was forecast to cost.

"Imagine if Canada moved on from the endless gun-registry debate to the next step…." Mr. Inkster seems to be in a hurry. Firstly, he implies that the debate is over -- something Bruce Montague, the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association and several million firearms owners refuse to concede. Secondly, he implies a hidden agenda -- the next step. For Canadian gun owners the next step is the abolition the Firearms Act and a return to sanity. Social engineers in general and Canadians in particular respond to computing technology the way small children react to shiny objects. They are fascinated to the exclusion of anything else in their environment, such as reality. Just as children try to put everything they see in their mouth, social engineers want to turn everything into a database.

Mr. Inkster furthers his argument by stating, "Because we have the technologies, and because Canadian gun owners and dealers are overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens, there is no question in my mind that Canada can fight gun crime more effectively than we do right now." Am I the only one who wonders how someone who exhibits such fuzzy thinking became commissioner of the RCMP and president of Interpol? Now I'm worried the incumbents might be just as bad. If the top man exhibits such incompetence, how bad must his underlings be?

Just because we have a pointy stick, must we stick it in our eye? Since Canadian gun owners (why add dealers here?) are so overwhelmingly law-abiding, why do we need an expensive and demonstrably ineffective Firearms Act in the first place? After all, Mr. Inkster admits criminals don't register guns; and the head of the Firearms Center admits the registry doesn't track criminals -- only law-abiding citizens. I am concerned Mr. Inkster is a white rabbit, about to lead us to another incomprehensible tea party.

Philip Jose Farmer, writing under the pseudonym "Kilgour Trout" published the science fiction satire "Venus on the Half Shell" in 1975. The central character in "Venus…" visits numerous worlds, many of which seem to resemble Canada in the early twenty-first century. On a planet where every aspect of life is regulated and a pathological respect for law combine, over time everyone eventually ends up in prison except the last jailer. Upon discovering that he has committed some illusory crime he must, out of duty, imprison himself thereby realizing the ultimate condition of life on his planet -- no one is free and everyone is in prison. This is where unchecked social engineering leads. I suspect Norman Inkster aspires to be that jailer.

This is Clive Edwards' first contribution to Enter Stage Right. (c) Clive Edwards 2004


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