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What Is Microstamping, and How Does It Work?

On February 28, 2024, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced that the state had completed its review of the viability of microstamping technology. The review found that the existing microstamping technology is a viable way to match an expended cartridge case to the gun from which it was fired. It also determined that microstamping technology can be incorporated into semi-automatic handguns.

In 2022, New Jersey enacted a law to promote the adoption of microstamping-enabled firearms. The attorney general’s report is the first step in putting the law into effect.

What Is Microstamping?

Microstamping marks bullets and cartridge cases with a unique fingerprint.

When a firearm is discharged, the gun’s firing pin strikes the casing containing a bullet (cartridge).

A firearm equipped with microstamping technology has an engraved firing pin. The pin is marked with unique symbols, called a “code,” linked to that specific firearm. This code can include numbers, letters, or geometric shapes. When a microstamped gun is fired, the firing pin impacts and imprints this unique code onto the cartridge case. 

How Does Microstamping Help?

When most guns are fired, cartridge casings are expelled from the firearm. Using the unique code microstamped during the firing process, law enforcement can trace these casings back to the gun that fired them.

Law enforcement can use this information to establish who purchased or owned the firearm used to commit a crime. And they can do so even if the gun itself is not recovered. 

Do All Firearms Have To Use Microstamping?

There is no federal regulation requiring firearm manufacturers to utilize microstamping.

Two other states currently have microstamping laws on the books:

  • California

    California had previously passed a microstamping law. However, although gun makers have admitted in court filings that it is technically feasible to add microstamping features to the firing pins of their guns, the firearm industry went to great lengths to circumvent it. After continued inaction by the gun industry, California passed a new law on September 26, 2023. This law set benchmark dates for the production of microstamping components. By January 1, 2028, all semi-automatic pistols sold in the state must be microstamping-enabled.

  • New York

    New York passed a microstamping bill on June 6, 2022. This law requires the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to begin certifying microstamping-enabled pistols’ viability. Once DCJS has certified the technology’s viability, the bill would establish programs and processes for the implementation of the technology in semiautomatic handguns across the state.

What About New Jersey?

In 2022, Governor Murphy signed a measure that would help advance the availability and use of microstamping technology. As part of this measure, the state conducted a review of the viability of microstamping technology. It found that microstamping is a viable way of improving crime scene technology, providing a new, easier way for law enforcement to match cartridge cases found at crime scenes to the weapons from which they were fired.

On February 28, 2024, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office announced it could begin the next steps outlined in the law. These include providing a process for manufacturers to submit microstamping-enabled handguns for review and inclusion on the state’s roster, a list of microstamp-enabled handguns that are available for sale in the state. Their inclusion, coupled with other state law requirements, will ultimately help make them available to consumers across the Garden State. The attorney general will open the microstamping roster application process “in the next few months.”

Does Microstamping Work?

Microstamping is an evolving technology that can help solve crime, stop retaliatory cycles of violence, and bring closure to survivors. 

For decades, gun manufacturers have refused to build basic ballistics identification features into their guns—including microstamping technology, which marks bullets and cartridge cases with a unique fingerprint each time a firearm is discharged. Microstamping allows law enforcement who recover spent casings at the scene of a shooting to identify the gun used to commit the crime. 

Violent crime clearance rates—the proportion of cases that have been solved—have been decreasing across U.S. cities since 2010. In 2020, approximately half of both murders and assaults went unsolved. When aggravated assaults involve guns, they’re cleared at lower rates than when they involve any other means. We must give law enforcement all the tools needed to bring justice to victims and survivors and hold those who commit gun crimes accountable.

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