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Downey & Houghtaling Bill to Require Gun ‘Microstamping’ Clears Assembly Committee

Legislation Assembly Democrats Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling sponsored to require the use of modern ballistic identification technology that would make it easier for law enforcement to analyze gun crime evidence was advanced Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The bill (A-3934) would require “microstamping” of all newly-manufactured handguns for sale by licensed retail firearms dealers. Microstamping is a laser technology that can engrave or etch on the inside of a handgun microscopic identifying characters or letters, which are then imprinted on each cartridge case when the gun is fired. Because the characters on the cases match the unique characters on the weapon, the technology can help law enforcement officers use cases left behind at the scene of a crime to identify the make, model and serial number of the firearm used.

The bill also would require firearms dealers to report their handgun sales to the New Jersey State Police, which would maintain records of sales in a database accessible by each law enforcement agency in the state. Such records would include, but would not be limited to: the purchaser’s name and address, the date and place of the sale and the make, model, manufacturer’s number and caliber of the handgun. The database would enable officials to search the code on a case and find information regarding the corresponding firearm.

“Microstamping essentially is like assigning DNA to a firearm,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “If law enforcement officers could immediately know everything about a gun just by having a shell casing, it would increase their likelihood of quickly apprehending the perpetrator of a crime.”

“If law enforcement can’t recover the weapon used at a crime scene, using microstamping is the next best thing,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “In addition to making it easier for the authorities to solve a crime, microstamping serves as a deterrent to the commission of a crime altogether. If somebody knows that there’s a way for a gun to immediately be traced back to them, they’ll be less likely to engage in trafficking or use that gun to commit a crime.”

A licensed retail firearms dealer who sells or transfers a handgun that is not microstamped would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree, which is punishable by a prison term of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.