to implementation estimates being offered by vendors. The per-round costs were raised as a particular concern for high-volume ammunition purchasers such as police forces (Yamamura, 2005a) and the military.
The proposed laser marking proposed by Ammunition Coding System involves evaporation of lead, as well as laser marking on live ammunition and the use of lasers where explosive compounds are present. Extensive research would be required to resolve environmental and safety concerns.
It is not within the committee’s purview to offer formal recommendations on microstamping technologies—to suggest microstamping as a more reliable, less expensive, or generally better alternative than imaging technologies applied to ballistics evidence, or vice versa. However, we find that both the microstamping of firearms parts and ammunition possess the formidable conceptual advantage of imposing discernible and objective uniqueness on bullet or cartridge case evidence. Thus, microstamping could provide a stronger basis for identification based on the evidence than the status quo, positing that uniqueness arises from random microscopic phenomena and assuming that unique features manifest themselves in different imaging media. However, it is also abundantly clear that substantial further research would be necessary to inform a thorough assessment of the viability of microstamping either gun parts or bullets. Particularly necessary would be credible estimates of the real cost of implementation, separating initial configuration costs from other life-cycle costs, that accurately take into account the reengineering of existing firearms and ammunition production lines.
The emergence of microstamping suggests a theme that we explore further in the next chapter. In microstamping—as in the early days of computer-based ballistic imaging—there has arguably been a push to legislate on the basis of the claims and competences of one or two vendors. We do not challenge the work done by the vendors who have suggested microstamping to date; they have made solid and worthwhile contributions. Microstamping may indeed be a viable future for firearms identification, and we strongly encourage continuing research in this area. However, we do conclude that state and federal law enforcement would be better served by new technologies and systems developed through richer and more open competitions, by multiple vendors and research teams and with fuller appreciation for the integration of new systems with existing manufacturing practices.