Maryland Terminates Failed Gun Casing Database

Zach Suber, Maryland State Police forensic scientist supervisor, holds an envelop containing casings in the files at the Maryland State Police Headquarters. (Photo: Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

Zach Suber of the Maryland State Police holding an envelope containing a casing  (Photo: Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

Editor’s note: This article was a submission by freelance writer Mike Doran)

The state of Maryland has finally ended its program to photograph and store the spent bullet casings of thousands of guns, the Baltimore Sun reports.

For 15 years, the state has required gun manufacturers to fire weapons to be sold in Maryland and send the casings to the police to be cataloged, with the intent being to make a database of “ballistic fingerprints” that could be used to solve future crimes.

The General Assembly was finally able to repeal the law on October 1, 2015, after three previous attempts failed.

“It’s probably the best bill I’ve had,” said Sen. Ed Reilly, a Republican from Anne Arundel County, who sponsored the bill to repeal the system.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” said former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat who championed the database. “It’s a little unfortunate, in that logic and common sense suggest that it would be a good crime-fighting tool.”

One big problem: the database never helped to solve a single crime. And with a final price tag of close to $5 million, the entire endeavor just seemed like a massive waste of time, money and resources.

The database consisted of 300,000 stored casings from each new handgun sold in Maryland since 2000, all of which were placed in an old fallout shelter behind the State Police headquarters in Pikesville. Each one was stamped with a barcode, photographed, and filed away in boxes, filling three large rooms.

The theory was that when they needed to find a handgun, the police could match a casing from the crime scene with one in the database.

A computer system was created to sort and match the images, but it never worked properly, sometimes returning hundreds of matches in a search. After seven years, it was abandoned and the state stopped photographing the casings.

The Maryland system was based on the federal National Integrated Ballistic Information Network started in the 1990s. However, that system only catalogs the casings from crime scenes and from guns confiscated by police.

It’s been clear for a while that the system like Maryland’s doesn’t work. New York created a similar program but ended it in 2012 when it also failed. And in 2008 the National Research Council studied the idea of a national ballistics database with casings from every gun. After reviewing the Maryland and New York programs, it was concluded that a national system would be impractical and a waste of money.

Proponents of the database argue that it still has potential. Zach Suber, a supervisor and forensic scientist for the Maryland State Police, says the process “could have been tweaked” to make it more effective.

According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, most guns used in crimes were purchased 15 years prior, meaning the first guns in the database are reaching the time period when they would most likely be useful to the police.

And while there were 26 cases where the database helped police, investigators already knew the gun they were searching for. In one instance, a suspect was already arrested and charged by the time the database was utilized, according to police records.

What will happen to the database is unclear. The new legislation suggests selling the hundreds of casings for scrap.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • 2B or not 2B November 26, 2015, 2:24 am

    The final price of $5 million dollars no doubt went to line some Democratic pockets.

  • Magic Rooster November 20, 2015, 9:07 pm

    How often do legally bought and sold guns become involved in a crime?
    Only when said gun is stolen from the law abiding owner.
    This is where this law fails, right at the beginning. It is merely a way to expand government
    Not to mention it is just plain dumb.
    If you watch TV and you have half a brain, you can disguise a gun’s ballistics with no problem at all.

  • Maryland Escapee November 20, 2015, 10:23 am

    I escaped MD after 45 years. The comments regarding the immediate uselessness of the ballistic fingerprint database are 100% correct and the police knew it even back when it started. I sat in on one of the meetings MD was holding to “educate” MD FFL’s on all the new laws. The Chief of the MD State police said himself, speaking to the crowd, “Look, you and I know that the casings from the factory likely won’t match the guns firing pin after 100 rounds have been fired. Plus this won’t affect revolvers which don’t leave spent cases at the scene and a piece of emory cloth rubbed across the firing pin will negate the whole process but this is the law the governor wants so we have to make the best of it”. ….. That is typical MD, a left politician paradise. Funny thing is, MD residents finally got so disgusted with Martin Owe-Malley (currently running for president and likely Killary’s running mate), they elected a republican Governor, the one that finally got this anti gun database gone. I say, anti-gun because at the time of the law, NO new handguns were allowed to be sold in the state without the factory spent casing and NO manufacturers did this, essentially making every new handgun illegal for sale in MD. That was the primary goal of the law. For years Colt and others refused to comply so MD residents couldn’t buy new colt guns for near a decade. … Also, I am no fan of any of the Democratic candidates for president, but let it be known that Martin Owe’malley is the most antigun of the bunch as hard as that may be to believe when running against Killary.

  • jerry kipikas November 20, 2015, 7:37 am

    As a resident of the peoples republic of New York” I’m one of the people affected by nonsensical gun laws–including the failed firearms casing database that was discontinued in 2012 (the safe act is also a failed law, but that’s a different story). The big problem I see with a casing database is that anyone with half a brain and a semi-automatic pistol can defeat the law simply by changing the firing pin and barrel. That way there will be a differnt strike on the primer and different chamber markings on the body of the case. Worried about the imprint of the bolt face on the case? replace the slide–easy enough to do with a 1911-style semi or any semi that’s common on the market. Maybe before we elect our politicians, they should take courses in firearms so that they actually know what they’re talking about. Better yet, pass laws against the illegal USE of firearms–additional time in jail for the USE of a high capacity magazine in the commission of a crime, the death penalty for the USE of a firearm in a crime that involves the death of the victim (cuts down on repeat offenders 100%). Additional time in prison for the USE of a firemarm during the commission of a crime. You get the idea. Making criminals out of law abiding citizens by passing laws against previously legal firearms does nothing to reduce crime.

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