NEWARK, New Jersey — It’s a simple, longstanding technology that can enable law enforcement to identify the gun that any bullet comes from. Microstamping imprints a microscopic code onto each bullet that a gun shoots. It’s proposed to become law in New Jersey, and on Tuesday, some officers and legislators joined with gun safety advocates and the inventor of microstamping to demonstrate how it works.
Todd Lizotte is the co-inventor of the technology, which was first developed in the 1990s. He was on hand at the Newark Police Department firing range on Tuesday morning for the demonstration.
Two ballistics officers fired four rounds from a microstamp-enabled gun. Lizotte said that the weapon dated back to the 1990s, showing that the imprinting doesn’t fade over time.
After the rounds were fired, Lizotte placed one casing under a microscope, and numbers and other markings were clearly visible.
“Eight digits are here,” he said, pointing to an enlarged, projected image of the base of the casing. Surrounding the numbers, in a circular pattern, he said, were markings that were “a binary coding of the eight digits.”
Each code is unique, allowing investigators to instantly trace the weapon from which the casing came.
“It’s just like a license plate,” Lizotte said.
Until Gov. Kathy Hochul signed it into New York law last week, California had been the only state to require microstamping. But Steve Lindley, the program manager for the anti-gun violence group The Brady Campaign in California, pointed out that implementing the law there has been much harder than passing it.
“[Since] 2013 it’s been the law in California,” he said, “and the gun manufacturers have still not complied.”
Now, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wants to make it the law of the land in the Garden State as well.
State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz is leading the effort. She said that just days ago gunshots rang out about 300 feet from her home in Newark, so she feels the need for new legislation personally.
After the gunfire, she said she called her husband, worried for their 5-year-old.
“I said, ‘Keep her away from the windows,'” Ruiz said from the podium at the demonstration, choking back tears. “‘Make sure she’s not aware of what’s happening outside.’ I cry for all the kids who have to see this.”
In opposition to the microstamping legislation are some Republicans in the state legislature, including State Sen. Ed Durr, of Cumberland County, in Southwest Jersey.
“All it is is going to be a way of tracking law-abiding citizens — again,” he said in an interview.
He acknowledged that in a state where Democrats control the legislature and the governor’s mansion, this legislation is likely to become law, along with seven other gun safety measures that Murphy is calling for.
Durr said that he cannot support this proposed legislation. “I’d be happy to stop these shootings, but there are other methods,” he said. “Taking away people’s rights is not one of them.”
For his part, Lizotte, microstamping’s inventor, acknowledged that it may take quite some time for his technology to be widely implemented. But with New Jersey potentially joining California and New York in making it law, it would mean that it would apply to more than 20% of the national population.
“It’s kind of like changing cars from leaded gasoline to unleaded gasoline,” Lizotte said. “It took 17 years. So I’m in it for the long haul.”