Gun supporters are celebrating the end of the state’s combined ballistic identification system, an electronic database of spent shell casings.
Created about a decade ago by then-Gov. George Pataki, CoBIS required all new handguns sold in New York to be test-fired, the casings collected and the marks on the spent shells digitized and stored in the database. The idea was that investigators would be able to connect the marks on the shells in the database with guns used in crimes.
But the system never lived up to its promise. Since 2011, there have only been two identifying “hits,” despite hundreds of thousands of markings being entered into the database.
The Cuomo administration eliminated funding for the program in the current budget.
“I’m surprised it took someone so long to figure out what an incredible waste of money that was,” said Alan Lizotte, dean of the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany. “We’ve known for a long time that the registry didn’t do anything,” he said. “Brand new guns are not the ones that are likely to be used in crimes.”
Gun control advocates had hoped that the final state budget would include legislation that would require that all semi-automatic handguns manufactured, delivered or received in New York be capable of microstamping — copying an alphanumeric code imprinted on the firing pin to the shell casing that is ejected when the gun is fired.
Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said the group is still optimistic that the Legislature will pass microstamping legislation.
“We are pushing for it,” she said. “We believe it’s an important crime-fighting tool.” She said CoBIS was a disappointment, but that microstamping would be an improvement over the state’s current ballstics technology, which only collects shell casings retrieved after crimes. “This means you can get a free pass the first time you use a gun in a crime,” she said.
Hilly says support for gun control is more widespread than politicians believe. “People don’t want guns everywhere.”
Lizotte is not a fan of microstamping.
He said police can already track guns using ballistics technology, and that microstamping is unlikely to be a big improvement. He described the legislation as “a nice thing for politicians who want to get tough on guns, but it’s not going to pass. And if it does pass, it’s not going to do anything.”
Many gun-control measures unnecessarily target all gun owners, he said, rather than the people who are most likely to use guns to commit crimes.
The lack of action on gun control has failed to reassure gun supporters, who fear that gun control restrictions are imminent.
“I’m always concerned. I stopped being as concerned around the first of July [when the legislative session ends],” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. He said the association is more concerned about executive orders on guns than legislative action. “It’s become apparent that the president has no compunction against using executive orders to restrict guns,” he said. “People have picked up on that.”
King was pleased with the state’s decision to end CoBIS, which cost about $1.2 million annually. “That was a total waste of money,” he said. “From the beginning we said that it would not work.”
The NRA has accused President Obama of supporting a total ban on manufacture, sale and possession of firearms, but the president has actually done little to restrict gun ownership. In 2010, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama failing grades for his efforts on gun control. Nationally, gun sales have climbed during the past few years.
According to FBI figures, 2011 saw a record 16.4 million instant criminal background checks of potential owners, up from 14.4 million in 2010, 14 million in 2009 and 12.7 million in 2008.
In January, there were 1.37 million such checks, and last month there were 1.72 million. Last month gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. said it would temporarily stop taking new orders after receiving more than 1 million in the first two months of 2012.
Lizotte dismissed this activity as politically meaningless. The people who are rushing out and buying guns due to concerns about a government crackdown “were never going to vote for the Democrats anyway.”
Lizotte said he believes gun control is a dead issue, and that gun-control initiatives are dead in the water, even in New York.
“One thing I’ve noticed this campaign season is that we’ve had the usual shootings by crazy people, and almost no politician is talking about gun control,” Lizotte said. “There has not been a peep out of Democrats about this stuff.”
He said the Democrats have finally realized that they can’t win on gun control issues, and have decided to stop talking about them. “There are so many gun owners out there,” said Lizotte, who once taught a course on guns and guns control. “Even just five years ago, Democrats and Republicans would have been in a dogfight about gun control. Now they leave it alone.”