Informational meeting on ballistic fingerprinting held at Lesar

By Gus Bode

Panel of five explores issues relating to ballistic fingerprinting

A proposed piece of legislation aimed at decreasing gun violence has some believing that the law is off course. Others, though, say it is right on target.

A forum on issues involving ballistic fingerprinting brought out various opinions Tuesday night at the Lesar Law School, part of an event sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union. With a panel consisting of five experts in various fields, debates over accuracy and Second Amendment rights filled the auditorium and ears of about 30 people in attendance.

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Fingerprinting legislation has been introduced in Congress and President George W. Bush has asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to explore the issues involved. If legislation were passed, it would require that all guns manufactured be fired once with the bullet and casing collected and stored in a national database. In the event of a crime, police officers would collect the casing and bullet and match it to the one stored in the database.

Old guns would not be registered in the database, which could allow criminals to dodge the law’s intent. Felons often do not purchase guns used in crimes at dealers where the firearms information would enter the database, said Don Gannell, a retired Chicago police officer and ballistics expert from the Illinois State Crime Lab.

“This poses an obvious problem,” he said. “In most cases, guns are purchased at flea markets or stolen.”

He said tests have found that every time a gun is fired, the bullet will leave behind traces in the barrel, as well as taking pieces of the barrel upon exiting from the gun.

Gannell said a better use of money would be to put more police on the streets.

One panelist, however, argued that ballistic fingerprinting could be a useful tool for law enforcement.

Chris Boyster, of the Illinois Coalition Against Handgun Violence, said the law would protect citizens, not harm them.

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“This is common sense legislation that can save lives,” he said. “If this has the ability to save one life it’s worth the cost.”

But two panelists disagreed.

Joshua Powell, a sophomore in sociology, said New York and Maryland currently have fingerprinting laws in effect that do little to help solve crimes.

“It cost Maryland $1.1 million to start the system,” said Powell, also a member of the National Rifle Association. “But they have not solved one crime with this system.”

Powell said he worries about the pending legislation eventually being used to disarm Americans.

“If it were to go through, you know the saying, ‘If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile,'” he said.

James Garofalo, panelist and SIUC professor of administration of justice, said he is skeptical about fingerprinting legislation because of the costs involved.

“We need to weigh the costs over the benefits,” he said.

Reporter Brad Brondsema can be reached at [email protected]

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