I’m Really Late On This One,

but it’s been irritating me for quite a while, so bear with me.

By now, I’m sure, everyone knows about this Daily Kos piece from the end of December. It’s been linked all over the right side of the blogosphere. Markos “screw ’em” Moulitsas unloaded that day from his frustration over Bush’s victory. Markos is a Democratic activist, though not one of the candidates he supported won anything. Yet The Daily Kos is #3 on the Ecosystem with 2262 links at the time of this writing, and a daily traffic volume of 267,061 hits a day. He’s the biggest Lefty player in the blogosphere by those numbers.

Let me quote the pertinent parts of that post as I see it:

But what makes me angry was Kerry and his gang’s inability to take advantage of the situation. I may regret saying this later, but fuck it — they should be lined up and shot. There’s no reason they should’ve lost to this joker. “I voted for the $87 billion, then I voted against it.” That wasn’t nuance. That was idiocy. And with a primary campaign that consisted entirely of “I’m the most electable”, Kerry entered the general without a core philosophy or articulated vision for the job.

I could deal with losing to a popular incumbent. But it’s tough to deal with the most unpopular incumbent to win reelection.

Of course, there’s a silver lining to all of this. A Kerry presidency would’ve been an unmitigated disaster, with a hostile congress, budget woes, the mess in Iraq, etc. Not a good time to be in charge. Those Supreme Court seats would’ve been nice (whoever we would’ve been able to push through a hostile Senate), but we’ve got an opportunity for long-term gain.

The Democrats need to offer an alternative agenda over the next four years. It won’t be enacted, so they can shoot for the moon. The hell with good policy, make proposals that sound great. The GOP used flag burning and gay marriage to rally their side. We can find equivalents. Don’t worry about them becoming law, because they won’t. Worry about branding the party and placing every bit of bad news (and there will be plenty) squarely at the feet of the party that controls all levers of government.

We need to make the GOP radioactive. Their incompetence is providing the ammunition. It is our job to wield it. Remember, they control everything. We don’t need to be bipartisan. We don’t need to work with them for them to pass their agenda. So we offer up clear alternatives to everything they propose. We have to be aggressive.

We have nothing to lose. Being in the minority is being in the minority. Yet we have much to gain.

In the first part, Kos acknowledges that a Kerry presidency would have been “an unmitigated disaster.” One can only assume that through the sole charm of his not being Bush would that disaster have been, err… mitigated. He acknowledges that his party was incompetent in selecting Kerry, and unable to beat what should have been a self-defeating foe.

Yet this is the party that he wants to lead the nation. And he berates the public for not voting for Kerry. Doesn’t it occur to him that, just perhaps, the majority of the voting public who went for Bush might have also seen that Kerry would have yeilded that “unmitigated disaster,” and were not off-put by another four years of Bush?

It’s blindingly apparent to me the level of contempt Markos holds for the electorate – those people who actually energize the democratic process. To him, the reason Bush won was because his supporters were all brainwashed by “the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy — the $300 million annual machine that developes the conservative message (think tanks), disseminates it to the public (Fox News, Rush), and trains their leaders in how to wield it.” It never occurs to him that the public might have rejected the Democrats on the merits of their arguments. It’s unthinkable.

And this is illustrated by his recommendation for future victory: Bamboozle the electorate! After all, it works for the “Vast Right Wing Conspiracy”! Right?

“The Democrats need to offer an alternative agenda over the next four years. It won’t be enacted, so they can shoot for the moon. The hell with good policy, make proposals that sound great. The GOP used flag burning and gay marriage to rally their side. We can find equivalents. Don’t worry about them becoming law, because they won’t.” In other words, lie. Deceive. Mislead. The idiots don’t know any better, so dangle the carrot and they’ll follow. We’ll give ’em our real agenda after we get into power!

This differs from the current Democrat campaign strategy… how, exactly?

And this guy is the most popular Lefty blogger out there?

What worries me is that Bush only got 51% of the vote. Kos says, “We need to make the GOP radioactive. Their incompetence is providing the ammunition.” Yet he illuminates with blinding arc lights the incompetence of the DNC, and why it is already “radioactive”. And he wants more of it! The irony is, while describing it in minute detail, what he describes never actually reaches into his consciousness. The reality he illustrates rests uncomfortably in his subconscious along with his obvious loathing for the people who just won’t put him and those like him in charge. He can write about it without it ever actually being processed to its logical conclusion.

Markos and people like him are the ones with their hands on the tiller of the Democratic Party. As much as I hate to say it (since I believe a “loyal opposition” is a good and necessary thing) we need to let them steer that ship into the shoals. In fact, we should help. They’re not the loyal opposition anymore. They’re not “the other side.” They’re the enemy. They are not interested in what’s best for the nation. They are not interested in what’s best for the Iraqis. They are not interested in what’s best for the world. They are only interested in grasping the levers of power, and they illustrate on a daily basis that the Constitution means less to them than it does to any elected Republican, and far less than it means to me and people like me.

A long time ago I wrote Liberal vs. Conservative: Both are Necessary. I still believe that. But I also believe that both liberals and conservatives have to share a common vocabulary – the words used must have the same meaning for both sides – and they must both share a love for the society they occupy. I don’t see either from the Left. Words mean what they want them to mean and that meaning can change at any time so long as it brings an advantage, and they hate the society they live in. They loathe it. They want to tear it down and build a utopia – the utopia I talked about in On Guillotines and Gibbetsif we damned proles would just acknowledge our masters and prostrate ourselves before them.

I’ve written a lot in this blog about the decades of corrosion that the Left’s control of media and public education have wrought on the public. The fact that almost 49% of the voting public was willing to go for Kerry, when even the most rabid Leftist recognized what a Kerry presidency would have meant, ought to illustrate that more vividly than anything I can write.

I Got Your Opinion Swarm RIGHT HERE!

I just finished reading Hugh Hewitt‘s latest screed, BLOG, and while I’m not a fan of his style in this book (or the editing – it was obviously rushed to the printer in order to take advantage of the post-election frenzy) he makes some excellent points. (Over and over again…)

The one point he stresses is that blogs, through what he calls “opinion storms” create “blog swarms” that force the mainstream media to cover stories they’d otherwise avoid like the plague. In cases like Rathergate, it forces them to study their own navels and expose things they’d rather not have exposed.

Instapundit or some other top-tier blogger will find something, and then those of us in the “tail” of the blogosphere – we who represent the Large Mammals and lower species on the Truth Laid Bear’s Ecosystem – pick it up and run with it. Suddenly it crosses over from being strictly a blog topic to being general public knowledge. Then the media has to comment on it, because everyone wonders “why haven’t I heard anything about this on the news?”

Well, the guys at Power Line have found one that really pisses me off, and Instapundit has linked to it. Here’s my 2¢ for the blog swarm:

It seems that ABC News wants a counterpoint for Bush’s inauguration tomorrow. They want to do a story on a military funeral for a soldier killed in Iraq. As Hindrocket stated:

Note that only the families of Iraqi war dead need apply. If a soldier died in Afghanistan, or aiding tsunami victims in Indonesia or Sri Lanka, or in a training exercise, never mind. That isn’t the “balance” ABC is looking for.

Every time I think the MSM have stooped as low as they can go, they surprise me.

What slime. All the news that’s fit to slant.

Captain Ed has comments, too. I agree with this one:

Whoever posted this at ABC needs a soul transplant. Disgusting.

Actually, those two. In addition, Captain Ed notes that ABC yanked the offending web page, but he has it archived.

Won’t they ever learn that the Internet has a LONG MEMORY??

Spread this around to everyone you know, would you? Obviously Rathergate didn’t teach anybody anything.

UPDATE, 1/21: Peter (hawk, spit) Jennings intoned deeply last night on the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Holloway’s funeral yesterday in Corpus Christi Texas on the ABC Evening News. They didn’t send a reporter, Jennings just mentioned the funeral in conjunction with his remarks on the inauguration.

I didn’t watch it, I just heard about it on Rush.

The report on the funeral is in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (registration required, or use username: [email protected], password: buggers. Bugmenot works.

Compare and Contrast

I just heard on Paul Harvey’s afternoon news this report:

Intruder dies after scuffle with 79-year-old man during break-in

SARASOTA – A man died this morning after breaking into the home of an elderly woman and fighting with her 79-year-old brother, who had a gun.

The intruder, George T. Jackson, wasn’t shot, but was knocked in the head with butt of the weapon, police said.

Police said Jackson, 24, broke in through the bedroom window at the 24th Street home of Henrietta McCormick, 82, at about 2 a.m. today.

She called 911 and her brother, Julian Scott, 79, grabbed a gun to confront the burglar. That’s when a struggle for the gun broke out. A shot was fired into the ceiling.

Soon after, Scott hit the man in the head with the butt of the gun and held him down until police arrived.

Police described Jackson as conscious, but incoherent. He was brought to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where he died about four hours later. While he was still alive, sheriff’s deputies accused him of residential burglary and possession of cocaine and marijuana.

The Sheriff’s Office and the state medical examiner’s office are conducting investigations to confirm the cause of death.

In searching for a link to the story I also found this one:

Homeowner, 80, Kills Suspected Burglar
Charges Not Expected

POSTED: 10:34 am CST December 21, 2004
UPDATED: 12:42 pm CST December 21, 2004

HOUSTON — An 80-year-old homeowner shot and killed a suspected burglar in his north Houston house early Tuesday, officials told Local 2.

Investigators said a 19-year-old man broke into the home in the 500 block of Turney Drive at the North Freeway at about 1:30 a.m. and went into the homeowner’s bedroom, where he was sleeping.

The resident asked the intruder to back away, but he did not, according to officials, so the homeowner shot him once in the stomach.

“When I shot him, he screamed and knocked the screen door completely out,” said the victim, who did not want to be identified.

The World War II veteran said he felt like it was “kill or be killed.”

“I don’t feel good about it, but I had no choice. He should have got out. He would have been alive today,” the victim told Local 2.

The suspected burglar, Robert Hinojosa, died a short time later at Ben Taub Hospital.

The homeowner, who has lived in the subdivision for 57 years, encourages others to protect their property.

“Stand up for their rights. That’s the most important thing. Don’t let nobody get on you just because of your age. Show them you’re just as good as a younger man,” he said.

The case will be referred to a Harris County grand jury, but charges are not expected.

And I found this one:

Tulsa Homeowner Shoots And Kills Intruder

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A 51-year-old Tulsa homeowner shot and killed a 16-year-old burglar who entered his home.

Sergeant Tim Bracken says Tulsa Police received a call about 11:20 Saturday evening from a home in the 6700 block of East 26th Place.

The homeowner — Robert Spencer — was asleep in bed when he was awakened by the sound of glass breaking. Bracken says Spencer then saw a shadow come into his bedroom, so he fired one shot which struck the juvenile in the cheek.

The boy then ran outside the home and collapsed in the back yard where he was later pronounced dead.

The juvenile was identified as 16-year-old Billy Joe Hardridge of Tulsa.

The homeowner wasn’t arrested.

Bracken says the case will be presented to the district attorney for review.

However, he says it is unlikely any charges would be filed against Spencer.

And this one:

Store owner in nightgown shoots, kills burglary suspect

COSBY, Tenn. Sevier County authorities say a store owner, dressed in her nightgown, confronted an intruder at her market and fatally shot him.

The sheriff didn’t release the market owner’s name, but says she was alerted to a break-in by the alarm company yesterday. Her home is next door to the store.

The police report says the woman took a 12-guage(sic) shotgun into the store and confronted the alleged burglar, whom she found crouching behind the cash register. She ordered him to leave the store and wait outside for police.

The store owner told police the man acted in a threatening manner and appeared to have something in his hand when he came out.

The suspect, identified as Arthur Lee Fleming of Dandridge, died several hours later at University of Tennessee Medical Center.

“Stand up for (your) rights. That’s the most important thing. Don’t let nobody get on you just because of your age. Show them you’re just as good as a younger man.”

True, if you’re armed. Questionable, if the State disarms you.

Compare and contrast with England where doing what these people did would be considered “excessive force” because:

“The law,” explains Harry Potter, the barrister who, with Charles Bott, would defend Osborn, “does not require the intention to kill for a prosecution for murder to succeed. All that is required is an intention to cause serious bodily harm. That intention can be fleeting and momentary. But if it is there in any form at all for just a second – that is, if the blow you struck was deliberate rather than accidental – you can be guilty of murder and spend the rest of your life in prison.

“Moreover,” Mr Potter continues, “while self-defence is a complete defence to a charge of murder, the Court of Appeal has ruled that if the force you use is not judged to have been reasonable – if a jury, that is, decides it was disproportionate – then you are guilty of murder. A conviction for murder automatically triggers the mandatory life sentence. There are no exceptions.”

I’d say that in each and every case listed above there was “an intention to cause serious bodily harm.” Pointing a gun at someone and deliberately pulling the trigger would seem to meet that definition.

The difference is, here in the States that’s considered (at least in most jurisdictions) “Standing up for your rights.” It used to be considered that in England, too.

England: A Nation Run OVERRUN by Gun-Fearing Wussies

Sweet bleedin’ jeebus.

‘Gun photo’ candidate suspended

A Conservative Parliamentary candidate has been suspended after he was pictured on the internet with a range of guns, rifles and a hunting knife.

An inquiry is now to be held into why Robert Oulds, the prospective MP for Slough in Berkshire, appeared with the weapons in the camera phone images.

A party spokesman said: “We take this matter extremely seriously.

“We have suspended Mr Oulds from the list of candidates, and as candidate for Slough, with immediate effect.”

‘All licensed’

A national newspaper reported that there were 11 images of Mr Oulds, 28, a councillor in Chiswick, west London, with the weaponry.

The weapons included an AK 47 assault rifle and a shotgun.

Mr Oulds told The Sun: “Those photos were taken at the home of a member of the Conservative association.

“I went round to this friend’s house and he is a member of a licensed gun club and he showed me his firearms and that is it.

“They are all licensed and all legal. They are not mine.”

I believe that in Texas what Mr. Oulds did was a requirement for people running for office. And the hopeful has to own a few, too.

If there’s an AK in that group, it’s not “licensed and legal” unless the gas system’s been disabled to convert it to fire like a bolt-action.

Damn, it’s sad that the nation that spawned this one has fallen so freaking far, and seems to fall farther every day. Whatever happened to the “rifle in every cottage” attitude?

“Ballistic Fingerprinting” a Failure? Do it Some More, Only Harder!

That didn’t take long. According to this AP Wire story in the San Jose Mercury News that’s precisely what Maryland’s gun control groups recommend:

Report Suggests Repealing Ballistics Law
Associated Press

BALTIMORE – A law requiring Maryland State Police to collect ballistics information from each handgun sold in the state has not aided a single criminal investigation and should be repealed, a state police report has concluded.

About $2.5 million has been spent on the program so far. Col. Thomas E. Hutchins, the state police superintendent, said he would prefer spending the money on proven crime-fighting techniques.

Maryland was the first state to adopt a ballistic fingerprinting law in April 2000. New York is the only other state to have such a database.

The Maryland law requires gun manufacturers to test-fire handguns and send a spent shell casing from each gun sold in the state to police. The casing’s unique markings are entered into a database for future gun tracing.

“The system really is not doing anything,” Hutchins said. “The guns that we find at crime scenes may not necessarily be the ones sold in Maryland, so there’s nothing to compare it to anyway.”

Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, added that the system only leads police to the person who bought the gun, when many guns used in crimes have been stolen.

The report also pointed to shortcomings in how ballistics information is sent to authorities. In one case, a gun dealer test-fired guns, rather than the guns’ manufacturer, according to the report.

Gun-control groups favor ballistic fingerprinting systems, saying they are effective crime-fighting tools. Leah Barrett, executive director of CeaseFire Maryland, said state police are not using the database enough.

She said scrapping the state program could deal a setback to better ballistics imaging. “I think it’s a real tragedy because other states are looking at New York and Maryland to see how we succeed with this,” she said.

Uh, right. You’re not succeeding, Ms. Barrett. And you’re not succeeding because the fundamental philosophy is WRONG. “Using the database” more (otherwise known as “throwing more money at it”) won’t help. (Otherwise known as “escalation of failure.”) Even saying that illustrates that you don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about.

Two systems are in use. Both have been in service several years. Neither one has provided a clue leading to a conviction. Both have cost million$. But the gun control groups say “they are effective crime-fighting tools.”

Effective at what?? Certainly not at “crime-fighting.”

And what’s with Hutchens? The guns that we find at crime scenes may not necessarily be the ones sold in Maryland, so there’s nothing to compare it to anyway.” The idea behind “ballstic fingerprinting” was to identify an unknown gun from cartridge cases found at a crime scene. Did he misspeak? Was he misquoted? Or was this more deliberate obfuscation?

I ought to send my piece below to Brian Witte. Maybe then he’ll get a clue.

There Comes a Point When You Have to Address Your Failures

Connie du Toit has written an uncomfortable piece that reminds me, once again, that it took us decades to get to where we are, and stopping the slide isn’t something we can accomplish overnight, if we can even accomplish it at all. Excerpt:

(In a California prison,) There were about 3,000 prisoners and about 800 guards. That’s a 2.66 to 1 ratio.

With a 2.66 to 1 ratio the guards are unable to stop people from killing each other and they can’t keep out contraband (weapons, drugs, etc.).

If we can’t keep people from killing each other in prison and controlling drug trafficking in THERE, how in the fcuk do we think we’re going to control (it) out HERE?

Another example of cognitive dissonance, where reality doesn’t match the ideal. And, I am also reminded of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers exposition on “History and Moral Philosophy,” particularly when it comes to crime and “juvenile delinquency” leading to adult criminality. By the time a violent teen reaches adulthood, as Connie points out, they’re unrecoverable. There is no rehabilitation. The most we’ve been able to do is lock them away from the people they would otherwise victimze, and then watch them victimize each other.

Theodore Dalrymple’s City Journal piece The Frivolity of Evil illustrates the result of decades of consequenceless behavior in England – casual, thoughtless, evil behavior. This is the petri dish in which the occupants of that prison are cultured.

Connie’s first recommendation:

We are going to have to start killing people. We’re going to have to start getting serious about culling the damn herd.

Now I’m not talking about killing people indiscriminately or blowing up government buildings in a Timothy McVeigh action. If you think that’s what we need to do, here’s a suggestion: Find a high bridge and jump off of it. If you think we’re at the point where we start mowing down each other in the streets or blowing up government buildings, I don’t want to know you. I want you to be struck by lightening or have a heart attack or something. Just go away and don’t ever come back—and don’t visit my site again either.

What I mean about killing people is that when prison guards are watching one gang attack another person on the quad, I don’t want them to get out mace or water canons anymore. In prisons like the one in that documentary, full of hardcore life-time criminals, I want them to shoot them when they act up.

The idea that a prisoner doesn’t feel he has anything to risk by committing a crime in prison means we have to give them something to risk. Since the only thing we have left to take from them is their life, well guesses what Batman, it’s time to start shooting them.

Rough, but she’s right. Actions have to have consequences, and the only consequence left when what you have is the equivalent of a rabid human is to put the rabid human down.

But unless we address “the frivolity of evil” that generates rabid humans, we’re not going to fix anything. And I have no clue how to reverse that problem. Especially when the majority of people don’t want to look at the problem, much less address it.

Quote of the Week

From Lileks:

Much sport has been had with this piece from the WaPo about the Red Sea. Short version: Three Beltway citizens loaded up their pouches with Elvish bread and headed out to find why people voted for Sauron.

Which tops, only barely, this one from the same paragraph:

Maybe I’m just in a warm happy mood, but I tend to side with those who cut Von Drehle much slack here – he’s a smart guy; he’s from the Big Empty and obviously has some affinity for it. What may seem to some like condescension or confusion strikes me as someone gently explaining to the Inner Party the curious songs of the proles, and why they sing in the first place.

James is a tenth-degree blackbelt in the martial art of verbal vivisection.

Why Ballistic Fingerprinting Doesn’t (and Won’t) Work

…aside from the fact that calling it “gun DNA” doesn’t make it so.

Well, the news of Maryland’s Integrated Ballistics Identification System database being a failure has made the rounds of the blogosphere. Kim commented on Wedneday, so did Say Uncle (with an Instalanche). Triggerfinger, Keith Devens, and No Quarters, did too. The Geek with a .45 gives a link to the actual report in a PDF file (graphic, rather than text file, though,) and Irons in the Fire commented on that.

I’ve been pretty busy, but I had a chance to read the report yesterday, and it’s an interesting expansion on the other reports I’ve read. There are two from California’s ballistic imaging feasibility study, and the original Maryland study. All of these reports reference New York’s system, but I have yet to find a study of that system specifically.

The general consensus of all of the blog pieces was a sarcastic “big freaking surprise!” which is understandable given our stated biases. The response from the gun confiscation, er, control, um, SAFETY groups was a bit more muted. JoinTogether didn’t make a peep, as far as I could tell. No press release from the Brady Campaign. Ditto for the Violence Policy Center. But one thing that struck me, as immersed in this topic as I am, was this comment at Say Uncle:

I am fairly green, could you explain why the idea would not work.
I can see their problem of the guns not being indexed, but would it would seem that that could be solved by indexing all the guns.

Several respondents made a valiant effort to explain the problems inherent in the system, but a couple of paragraphs is insufficient. Like most controversial topics, there’s a whole lot of “there” there, and no simple two- or even ten-sentence response is enough. Sometimes I forget that a lot of people don’t have the basic information I’ve accumulated over the last ten years. (Generally not, though, which is one reason my posts – like this one – tend to the Den Bestian in length.)
So here, in some detail, is a dissertation on just some of the problems with the concept of “ballistic fingerprinting” as a crime-fighting tool.
First, let’s see what the gun confiscation, er, control, um, SAFETY groups have to say. The Brady Campaign has a web page on the promises of ballistic fingerprinting. I won’t quote the whole thing, but they do state the following:

When a gun is fired, identifying marks are made on the bullets and cartridge casings. Those marks, called ballistic fingerprints, are as unique as human fingerprints – no two firearms leave the same marks. The marks are also reproducible – every time a gun is fired it leaves identical marks. The uniqueness and reproducible qualities of ballistic fingerprints can provide a critical tool to law enforcement for solving gun crimes by rapidly identifying the specific weapon that was used in a crime.

That’s the basic idea they’re selling. The VPC says, surprisingly, nothing that I can find concerning ballistic fingerprinting – possibly because they outspokenly agitate for a handgun ban and may see ballistic fingerprinting as a step backward. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has a web page on the topic, and a full report on the wonders of ballistic fingerprinting. Interestingly, both the Brady Campaign and the CSGV hang a lot of weight on how ballistic fingerprinting could have aided in the capture of Muhammed and Malvo in the D.C. Sniper killings. The CSGV says this:

In October 2002, the world watched helplessly as the Washington, D.C., area experienced a sudden rash of gun violence. Seven shootings, six of which were fatal, occurred in just two days in various D.C.-area suburbs. Investigators recovered bullets from some of the shootings and examined them under a microscope. Unique, microscopic markings indicated that the bullets had been fired from the same gun. A sniper was on the loose.

In retrospect, the microscopic markings on the bullets that police recovered early in the investigation provided strong evidence about the killers’ identities. Those markings, and similar markings left on cartridge cases that were recovered later, constituted a unique “ballistic fingerprint” of the specific gun the snipers used. If police could have identified the make, model and serial number of the snipers’ gun from its ballistic fingerprint, they could have used that information to access the existing crime gun trace system. That, in turn, would have led them directly to the Tacoma, Wash., gun store where the snipers had acquired the Bushmaster XM15 assault rifle they used to murder 10 people in the D.C. region while terrorizing millions more.Unfortunately, because there is no existing, comprehensive system linking ballistic fingerprints to the guns that produced them, the evidence police recovered so quickly could not help them identify the killers.

The Brady Center says much the same:

In the Maryland sniper shootings, police rapidly matched bullet fragments from each victim to prove that the same gun was used in all of the shootings. The technology to match bullets to firearms is known as “ballistic fingerprinting.” It worked and provided police with important crime leads. But what was missing, what police desperately needed, was a nationwide database of the ballistic fingerprint of every gun before it is sold so that police could determine not just that the bullets came from the same gun, but which specific gun – manufacturer, model, serial number – the bullets were fired from. That would have helped police trace the sniper after the very first victim.

Of course, it’s all the NRA’s fault that there’s no such database:

Because of opposition from the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association (NRA), efforts to expand ballistic fingerprinting to include all new guns have been blocked in Congress and state legislatures. Ballistic fingerprinting technology is proven and reliable. What is lacking is the political will for politicians to stand up to the gun lobby and establish a comprehensive ballistics database that would help law enforcement solve more gun crimes and catch more gun criminals.

Here’s the problem, though. What they say (and this is overwhelmingly true for these groups) is only partly (in this case, minimally) true. There’s a whole lot of information they neglect, gloss over, bury, and avoid.

Let’s look at what the current ballistic fingerprint (I’m going to abbreviate it BF from now on) databases are attempting. In Maryland’s and New York’s, all new handguns sold in these states must be provided from the manufacturer with one or two fired cartridge cases. When the gun is sold, those cases are forwarded to the proper ballistics lab along with the serial number, make and model of the handgun. Supposedly no direct information about the purchaser is included, but you can imagine how long that would actually last. The NRA’s primary objection to BF is that it’s backdoor gun registration.

Anyway, the cartridge cases are then entered into the BF database by being digitally imaged by a trained ballistics technician, and those images are linked to the make, model, caliber and serial number of the firearm. Then, if any spent casings are found at a crime scene, that recorded information will be available for comparison with the evidence collected. The BF database will be searched by a sophisticated program looking for a match. What does the software look for? Well, as the Brady Center explained, it looks for those “unique markings” – markings “as unique as human fingerprints.”

The only problem is, they’re not.

The first feasibility study done for the California legislature explained:

As bullets and cartridge cases are expelled from a firearm, microscopic markings are left on the bullets and the cartridge cases from the firing pin, ejector, barrel and other internal mechanisms of the firearm. These marks are unique to each firearm and are substantially reproduced each time the firearm is fired. The size, shape and location of these marks can be used to establish a smaller pool of firearms that share characteristics for comparison purposes. The individual nature of these marks can be used to conclusively identify a specific firearm as having fired a particular bullet or cartridge case. Ballistics imaging is often referred to as “ballistic fingerprinting” or “ballistic DNA.” Unlike DNA, which cannot be altered, some markings made by firearms may change over time with normal wear and tear of a firearm. Some preliminary studies suggest that some firearms marks may change rapidly during a “break-in” period of unknown length. Others state that marks on cartridge cases do not change, but that marks on bullets, especially lead bullets, do.

So, right off the bat you can see that the “uniqueness” isn’t so unique. Fingerprints, short of physical damage to the pad of a person’s finger, don’t change, but the markings produced on a cartridge case can – and from simple wear. Further, those changes may occur rapidly during the early use of the firearm, yet the baseline cartridge cases provided to the ballistics lab are one of if not the very first rounds fired from the gun.

But there are other problems as well. The technical evaluation portion explains:

When a cartridge is fired in a firearm, force of ignition will cause the firearm to leave various identifying marks on the cartridge case. These marks can be class, sub-class or individual characteristics. Class characteristics are features that indicate a restricted group source and result from design factors. Sub-class characteristics are features made during the course of manufacturing that further restrict the group source. On a fired cartridge case, sub-class characteristics can be mistaken for individual characteristics. Individual characteristics are those marks that serve to uniquely identify the cartridge case to only one gun. These marks can be made on different parts of the cartridge case by various parts of the firearm.

The firearm examiner can use any of these marks for identification; however, in most cases the areas used for identification are the following: breech face marks, firing pin impressions, extractor or chamber marks. For automated imaging, the only areas used for analysis are the firing pin impressions, breech face marks, and ejector marks. These are the marks that are typically repeatable and amenable to routine imaging. In most cases the firing pin may not leave sufficient detail for analysis and most examiners rely on the breech face marks.

That’s important to remember: the software that is going to search through the BF database is pretty much limited to firing pin impressions, breech face marks, and ejector marks. BUT, there are problems with even these marks:

The detail of these breech face impressions is dependent on cartridge chamber pressure and the type of breech face manufacture/condition. Lower pressure cartridges are not expected to consistently produce decent breech face impressions. Dirt or lead build up on the breech face can reduce the detail of breech face impressions.

No wear and tear involved, this is dependent strictly on the pressure generated by the ammo being fired and/or by how dirty the gun is. The cartridge cases provided to the ballistics lab are fired from a brand-new, pristinely clean gun. But what if the gun is dirty? And you can bet the ammunition used by a perp won’t be the same ammo used by the factory to provide the baseline cases.

Another variable in the production of breech face marks is the type of ammunition used. The detail left on a cartridge case is also dependent on the cartridge chamber pressure, bullet weight and the hardness of the primer. On some occasions, these can vary to such an extent that an examiner will not be able to identify test 1 to test 2 when different ammunition is used in the same gun. One of the cardinal rules in firearm examination is to test fire the gun with similiar ammunition as the evidence ammunition if at all possible.

But when you’re comparing to the baseline cartridge cases provided by the gun manufacturer, you don’t have that option. If a trained forensic ballistics technician can’t ID a case, what chance does a piece of software have? To give some idea of the variability, the report included this image of breechface marks on different manufacturer’s ammunition fired from the same gun:

Quite a difference, no?

Here’s the thing the gun confiscation, er, control, um, SAFETY groups skip right over in their gushing endorsement of BF: the use of ballistic matching in forensics isn’t a case of trying to match a cartridge case to an unknown firearm, it’s a case of matching a suspected crime gun to a crime scene. The cops will have a gun they suspect was used in a crime. A ballistics technician will take the gun, which is contemporary with the crime, and carefully fire several rounds through it, possibly with different lots and brands of ammunition. Then those fired cases will be compared by the software looking for possible matches, or “hits.” When the software finds a case or cases it determines are close, a technician will then do the final comparison manually.

The difference, once again, is that the gun is already in police hands, and that gun provides multiple cases from similar ammunition to that found at the crime scene. With Maryland’s and New York’s IBIS systems, what they’re trying to do is exactly backwards. All the ballistics technician has is one or more crime scene cases, and all he has to compare those cases to is an electronic database of two cases from each new handgun sold. The chance that the crime scene ammunition is of the same manufacture as the baseline is slim, and the same loading? Infinitesimal. For example, in 9mm alone, one of the most “popular” calibers used by criminals, Federal offers eleven different loads. Winchester offers twelve. Remington offers fourteen. Then there’s CCI/Speer, Fiocci, Wolf, Black Hills, and many others, not to mention military surplus, commercial reloads, and even handloads. Even if you have ammunition from the same manufacturer, different loads will leave different marks, as the report noted: The detail left on a cartridge case is also dependent on the cartridge chamber pressure, bullet weight and the hardness of the primer.” Here’s an example of two 7.65 (.32 Auto) Sellier & Bellot cases from the same gun using two different lots of the same load:

S&B only makes one load for the .32 Auto, with a 73 grain full metal jacket projectile. Again, quite a difference, no? Do those look like “identical marks” that are “unique as human fingerprints”? And these two cartridges were fired from the same gun probably on the same day. What happens if there’s two or three years between the sample case and the crime scene case? The gun used in the crime could be new, or it could be twenty years old. The ballistics technician has no way of knowing, because he’s looking for the gun, not trying to tie a specific gun to a crime.

In addition, the cases from the suspect gun are being checked against a relatively small database of known crime scene evidence, not against a vast database of cases from every new handgun sold into circulation:

(S)ome firearms will reproduce (marks) well with sufficient detail, while some firearms will vary in their reproducibility depending on the cartridges used. Firing pins can be relatively smooth and nondescript. In such cases, these smooth firing pin marks can serve primarily as a class characteristic indicator. Even when they have gross features such as in the Bryco, these could be class or sub-class characteristics. An exception is the Glock firearm with its characteristic firing pin drag and aperture marks. This is one of the reasons that cartridge case examinations frequently involve the examination and comparison of other unique marks such as chamber marks, ejection port marks, ejector marks, and rimfire anvil marks. The impressions are not only dependent on the hardness of the primer, but also on how well the primer seats in the local cartridge case. In smaller databases these issues may not be significant, but with a large database using newly manufactured firearms, these differences can prove significant.

(Underlining in the original, other emphasis mine.) I won’t go into the technical specifics of this problem. If you want to know, read the report, Appendix A, but the concept shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Instead of searching for a nail in a haystack, you’re looking for a needle in a hay field. And with a million new handguns entering the market each year, that field just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Not to mention the 60+ million handguns already in circulation that aren’t in the database. Not as simple as the Brady Bunch makes it sound, is it?

But wait! There’s MORE!

The initial feasibility report spawned a later independent study report that expanded on the issues brought up. You see, the BATF was quite hurt by some of the statements made and took exception to the naysayers in California’s Department of Justice, so a follow-on study was done to answer the items the BATF objected to. That report was written by Dr. Jan De Kinder, Ballistics Section Head of the National Institute for Forensic Science, in the Department of Justice for Belgium. (I guess they really wanted an unbiased observer.) Dr. De Kinder was a little less enthusiastic about how “unique” those markings were, as he stated in his introduction:

A ballistic imaging database system is based on the following premise: When a gun is fired, it may leave distinguishing marks on the fired bullet and cartridge case. A searchable database with images of such marks from all guns sold could be a valuable investigative tool. Such a database would permit linking of evidence bullets or cartridge cases back to the gun that fired them. Evidence found at a shooting incident would be scanned and compared to all entries in the database. Ideally, the system would provide investigators with the serial number of the firearm. The serial number can lead the investigators to the registered owner. The database could be called a “ballistic fingerprinting” database. If created, California’s ballistic fingerprinting database would quickly grow to be very large. More than 100,000 fired cartridges from new pistols would be added to it annually.

Not as definitive as the Brady Center at all. Dr. De Kinder also explains how successful the initial tests were:

The AB1717 Evaluation was designed to test the performance of the IBIS™ system for the anticipated large database of new firearms. The experiment used 792 Smith & Wesson model 4006 semi-automatic pistols for this purpose. Each pistol was test fired using at least two cartridges of Federal brand ammunition and other ammunition. One of the test fired Federal cartridge cases for each of the pistols was registered into the database.

The duplicate Federal cartridge cases from fifty of these pistols were selected at random and compared with the database. The system ranks how well each entered mark matches the evidence. The higher the ranking the more similar the stored image is to the evidence’s mark. For the system to be successful, the correct gun should be listed in the top few ranks. The results show that 38 % of the fifty pistols were not listed in the top 15 ranks. The same experiments was repeated with ammunition of a different brands. In this case 62.5 % of the pistols were missed and not listed in the top 15 ranks. These results will be discussed in light of the investment in terms of equipment and personnel needed to set up a ballistic fingerprinting database. In fact, the trends in the obtained results show that the situation worsens as the number of firearms in the database is increased.

The supporters of a BF database insist that the “unique fingerprint” will work to allow an automated system to identify the serial number of a gun used in a crime, but in controlled laboratory experiments it does not. And bear in mind, the ammunition tested was all from the same lot of Federal .40S&W caliber cartridges. The sample database had only 792 firearms all of the same make and model. This is the most ideal condition. Read the entire report if you’re interested. (And if you’ve slogged this far down this dissertation, you must be interested!)

Now, I’ve discussed the problems involved in the BF database concerning only the ammunition used and normal wear, but what about alterations to the firearm, whether intentional or innocent? Dr. De Kinder stated:

Whereas the BATF sees altering a firearm as a non-issue, it is a real problem: Any reduction in the potential of ‘hits’ such as caused by alteration to a firearm is of concern when evaluating the usefulness from a technical point of view of a ‘gun sales database’.

It certainly would be if a BF database were known to be in use. Remember, the marks an automated system compares are the breechface, firing pin, and ejector marks. Does this bring anything to your attention? It should. Those marks are pretty much limited to semi-automatic handguns. Revolvers don’t leave ejector marks. In fact, unless a perp reloads his revolver and drops the empty brass, a revolver doesn’t leave cases at a crime scene at all – but revolvers are included in the database. So if you limit yourself to semi-auto handguns, how hard is it to change those marks?

Not hard at all. Take a Dremel tool and polish the breechface. Install a new firing pin. Grind just a little bit on the ejector with a stone or a file. If you want to get really creative, buy a new slide from Brownell’s or from Numrich. After all, the part of the gun that carries the serial number is the frame. The slide is just another part. But it’s the part that leaves the marks. If you’re a professional criminal, why not? Or just use an older gun that won’t be in the database. There’s millions of them.

And that brings up another question: How old are guns used in crime? The gun confiscation, er, control, um, SAFETY groups seem to imply that guns leave the gun shop and then are immediately used in a crime. Both the Brady Bunch and the CSGV cite the D.C. Sniper case as the ideal in which a BF database could have collared a criminal, leaving aside the facts:

A) The gun used was a rifle and not a handgun. (TWO million new rifles enter circulation annually, as opposed to only ONE million handguns.)

B) The evidence collected at the crime scenes wasn’t cartridge cases but projectiles, and the system doesn’t track projectiles. Muhammed and Malvo did their shooting from inside a vehicle. The cartridge cases went with them when they escaped the crime scene.

C) The condition of the projectiles recovered (mostly jacket fragments and bullet bases) was enough to verify that the same gun was used, and that’s about it. I’m pretty sure they did it more through metallurgical analysis than rifling marks. Certainly not enough of the bullets survived to have positively ID’d a firearm out of a huge database of firearms.

And, finally,

D) The gun was stolen, so even if they could have ID’d the weapon, all it would have told them was what gun shop it came from.

(Not exactly the whiz-bang tool it’s played up to be, is it?)

Dr. De Kinder discussed the firearm age question, known in the business as “time to crime”:

The time to crime (TTC) is an important parameter that can be used to reduce the size of the ballistic fingerprinting database. If this parameter drops down in a relatively short time period, the firearms which were sold long before the average TTC have a negligible chance of being used in crime. In other words, it allows one to minimize the retention time of the data in the ballistic fingerprinting database without losing a substantial amount of its performance.

In the Crime Gun Trace Reports 2000 from the ATF, average TTC are mentioned per age of the offender and type of firearm. The following results are obtained for semiautomatic pistols (4.5 years), revolvers (12.3 years), rifles (7.0 years), shotguns (7.6 years) and other firearms (7.1 years). The nationwide average TTC for all firearms for all ages of offenders is 6.1 years. As this study averages over the whole U.S.A., regional differences can be expected. The study particularly mentions Stockton, CA (9.2 years); San Jose, CA (9.0 years); Anaheim, Long Beach and Santa Ana (8.0 years) and Oakland, CA (8.0 years) as cities where the median time-to-crime is much longer than the overall city average. As all these cities lie within California, one can expect the average TTC for the State of California to be higher than the national value. More detailed data is required to determine correctly the median TTC for pistols in California.

It would appear, then, that guns fresh off the showroom floor don’t end up being used in a crime all that often.

So, let’s review.

I: The system is limited to new handguns.

II: The system is limited to two cartridge cases per handgun.

III: Those cases are fired from the gun when it is brand-new and immaculately clean.

IV: Pretty much only semi-automatic handguns are going to leave cartridge cases at crime scenes, so the inclusion of revolvers seems a moot point.

V: Wear and tear from normal use can affect the markings left on the cartridge case, and such wear may be significant during the “break-in” period.

VI: Very few guns used in crime are anywhere near new.

VII: How dirty the firearm is can also affect the markings left on the case.

VIII: The ammunition used will dramatically affect the markings left on the case.

VIX: The automated system is pretty much limited to comparing the breechface, firing pin, and ejector marks.

IX: These marks can be altered quite simply, by wear and tear, by normal maintenance, by dirt and crud, or with specific intent.

X: As the size of the database goes up, the ability of the automated system to get a “hit” goes down.

XI: The size of the database will grow dramatically each and every year.

XII: In initial testing using a tiny database of identical firearms and ammunition from one lot, the success rate of the automated comparison system was less than 66%. When different ammunition was used, the success rate fell to well below 50%.

If you didn’t know any of this initially, then I can understand why Say Uncle’s commenter wondered why the idea didn’t work. It seems so simple. It’s a fingerprint. It’s “Gun DNA.”

But it’s not. Just like the gun SAFETY groups aren’t what they say either. And here’s the final nail in the coffin, from the last report that inspired all that commentary:

The MD-IBIS Program has collected and imported 43,729 cartridge cases into the system as of 9/7/04. It has incurred 208 criminal investigations leading to six (6) “hits” or matches. It should be reiterated at this point that the IBIS system does not make the match. It provides a means of narrowing the field of search. The examination by a competent Firearms Examiner on a known versus questioned basis provides the actual conclusion of a match. The estimated cumulative cost of the MD-IBIS Program to date is $2,567,633. The cost per “hit” value is $427,939, or approximately $60 per gun sold. None of the “hits” has been used in a criminal trial, and five (5) of the six (6) did not work according to the manner in which the system was designed. It actually functioned in reverse. The gun was already present. Although these hits may be interpreted by some as being in line with the Mission of the DSP, the mission accomplishment and cost effectiveness of the Program has not been demonstrated. The MD-IBIS Program has not lead to the solution or expediency of an investigation that could not have been accomplished by other traditional sources.

(T)o further review and evaluate MD-IBIS, a series of blind proficiency tests were given. The tests were designed to test the ultimate purpose of the Program. The double-blind tests (unknown to examiners and supervisors) began in July 2003. The basic design of the tests were to emulate actual situations involving the finding of spent cartridge cases and submit them to the Forensic Sciences Division/Firearms Toolmarks Unit for examination. Guns known to be included in the MD-IBIS Database were test fired and the cartridge cases collected. These cartridge cases were submitted as evidence in bogus criminal cases. There have been four blind proficiency tests submitted to date. There were no “hits” associated with any of the submitted proficiency tests.

The bottom line of this report is that the MD-IBIS System has failed to demonstrate the bottom line of the 1st report. The MD-IBIS Program, for all its good intentions, has not proven to be a time-saving tool for the Firearms Examiner or an investigative enhancement to the criminal investigator. It has simply failed in the Mission and Vision concepts originally established for the Program. Fiscal resources for the MD-IBIS program would be well spent in other Forensic Sciences Division programs…

“It has simply failed in the Mission and Vision concepts originally established for the Program.”

So in addition to being useless, it has the extra added bonus of being expensive. The MD-IBIS report also notes that New York’s system has been equally successful (i.e., a complete failure) but it’s cost New York taxpayers over eight million dollars so far. According to this link, the price is nearly $16 million. It would appear that throwing more money at the problem doesn’t help.

So the reaction I expect? The philosophy cannot be wrong. Try it again, ONLY HARDER!!All four ballistic database reports are available here:

Feasibility of a California Ballistics Identification System

AB1717 report – Technical Evaluation: Feasibility of a Ballistics Imaging Database for All New Handgun Sales

Maryland State Police Forensics Division IBIS report

MD-IBIS Progress Report #2

The OC Shooter’s Page on Ballistic Fingerprinting – very comprehensive.

See also my earlier piece, Spin, Spin, Spin.

(Like this wasn’t long enough already…)

UPDATE, 1/19: This is probably the most linked and most viewed piece I’ve written to date. Thanks to everyone who has commented and pointed readers this way (though I’m surprised I haven’t seen a single hate-bomb out of the two thousand or so who’ve read this.) One commenter over at Chicago Boyz made an observation that I would have included in the body of this piece if it weren’t already so long:

I’ve long since concluded that the gun controlers don’t really expect measures like these to “work”, in the sense of lowering crime, or aiding the police. The inconvenience and cost to gun owners is what they’re aiming for. In the long run, if they can make gun ownership enough of a hassle, the number of gun owners in the next generation will decline, and perhaps we’ll lose enough political clout that they can get the outright ban they really want.

But that’s not a motive they can openly admit, and still hope to get the programs enacted.

To which I replied:

Brett Bellmore hit the nail on the head – the purpose is not to build a useful tool for crimefighting, the purpose is to make it more difficult for individuals to aquire and keep firearms. The effort is, and the gun control groups state this implicitly, to reduce the number of guns, because they ALL blame “the number of guns” in circulation for the level of gun violence we have here.

The British did a yeoman’s job of making gun ownership an onerous privilege to exercise, then used the rules under which that privilege is exercised to remove whole classes of firearms…

From the law-abiding subjects. The criminals, however, still have access to pretty much anything they want.

Note this passage from the second Maryland report:

The Vision of the MD-IBIS Program was to have it fully performing in three to five years. This was to include the amassing of some 30,000 database images per year. This projection fell and was embarrassingly overstating. The actual acquisition of cartridge case numbers was about 36% of the estimation. The main reason for this drop-off appears to be from the reduction of handgun sales in Maryland after the passage of the law.

Now, did those sales actually disappear, or did they go black-market? Did this law really reduce the influx of handguns into Maryland by nearly two-thirds, or did it make a whole bunch of Marylanders (choose to become) instant criminals?

UPDATE: As of 2015 Maryland scrapped their IBIS system.

Holy S*)t! Or: Don’t Buy Powder From People You Don’t Know

I have, in the past, put up pictures of guns destroyed in “KABOOM!”s – incidents in which something went very wrong, usually involving handloaded ammunition. Well, here’s a piece I think all handloaders ought to read. It starts off

Handloaders are a thrifty bunch, on the whole, when it comes to our reloading components. We may spend multiplied hundreds of dollars on our equipment over a period of several years, but when it comes to the components of our ammo, while we demand excellence in quality, we are bargain-hunters at heart.

Let me state that I have yet to meet any group of people who are tighter tightwads than shooters. In this case, the savings of probably less than $100 cost a man a very nice, very accurate sporterized Mauser, and very well might have cost him his health or even his life.

Please read Bargain Powder Hazards.