Buy a gun, leave a fingerprint

Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Beginning on Sunday, with every new handgun sold in Maryland, the manufacturer will have to give state police a spent shell casing carrying the weapon’s ballistic fingerprint.

Under the law, the first of its kind in the nation, the unique markings on the casing will be entered into a database. When detectives find a bullet casing at a crime scene, they can go to the computer and instantly identify the gun it came from.

“Countless hours of investigative work can now be eliminated from the process of identifying the crime gun and who may have been in possession of it,” State Police Superintendent David Mitchell said.

A similar New York state law takes effect March 1.

Five months after the Maryland law was signed, questions remain about its effectiveness.

There are no criminal penalties for noncompliance by manufacturers, and state police have told dealers they can continue selling guns even if manufacturers do not pack shell casings with the weapons.

State Police spokesman Maj. Greg Shipley said manufacturers have been told it’s their responsibility to make sure guns sold in Maryland are accompanied by a casing.

Gun owner Jim Purtillo of Silver Spring questioned the value of the law. “It’s about making it harder for people to buy guns,” he said. “Bad guys typically don’t leave shell casings from a revolver at a crime scene.”

Maryland gun dealers have worried that manufacturers or distributors may stop shipping guns into the state. But at least two major manufacturers are making efforts to comply: Smith &Wesson, the nation’s largest maker of handguns, and Beretta USA.

Beretta USA said it will pack shell casings with handguns it knows will be sold in Maryland, but warned that its distributors are scattered throughout the country and guns sent elsewhere could wind up in Maryland.

“If we get an order from Florida, we don’t have any way of knowing that gun is going to Maryland. It will not include the shell casing,” Beretta spokesman Jeff Reh said.

The requirement is part of sweeping new gun legislation in Maryland. Sunday also is the effective date for laws prohibiting handguns from being sold without an external trigger lock and barring anyone younger than 30 with a juvenile record for violent crimes from buying a handgun.

Beginning in 2002, Maryland residents also will have to complete a state-approved gun safety course before buying a weapon, and the following year, all handguns sold will have to be equipped with built-in locks.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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