Bullet profiling an expensive failure

The evidence is clear: constantly targeting the law-abiding firearm owner through overregulation and knee-jerk reactions in a vain attempt to increase public safety is not working. Organised crime syndicates are still obtaining their illicit wares, firearms are still entering our porous borders undetected and new avenues such as the internet’s ‘dark net’ are emerging as key sources of firearms supply to the black market.

While the SSAA time and time again points to evidence showing that licensed firearm owners are not the problem, some authorities continue to either ignore our advice or pander to the vocal anti-gun minority. Another so-called ‘solution’ being floated to combat and solve gun crime again misses the mark. An Australian study looking at police ballistics databases, where ballistic material recovered from crime scenes is linked to a firearm that has been profiled and entered into a database to keep track of its unique ballistics identity, is currently underway. Based on databases known as the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) and Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) in the United States, the aim of the study is to see how firearms ‘profiling’ has aided in solving crimes in Australia.

Results from the IBIS used in Maryland in the US already indicates such programs are a waste of police resources, time and money. The Maryland General Assembly repealed the Public Safety Handgun Identification Requirements legislation in November 2015 after no tangible results were found in solving crimes. The law required handgun manufacturers to provide dealers and gunshops shell casings of projectiles fired from handguns with the casings then given to the police for their database.

This system resulted in just 26 crimes cracked in 15 years at a reported cost of $5 million. Furthermore, it was found that in each of the 26 solved cases, police were already aware of the firearm in question. Now, the 300,000-odd shell casings, one from every handgun sold in the state since the law took effect, are reportedly being sold for scrap metal.

Unsurprisingly, former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, whose administration pushed for the database, told local news outlets that he was disappointed the system had been scrapped. “It’s a little unfortunate, in that logic and common sense suggest that it would be a good crime-fighting tool,” he said.

However, Crime Prevention Research Center president John Lott is also on record as saying, “It was clear 10 years ago that this program was not going to work…Millions were spent on funding this program, money that could have been better used for actual police and law-enforcement resources.”

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) also predicted the plan would not succeed, with spokeswoman Amy Hunter saying, “The Maryland ballistics database has been a failure from its inception…Funding has been discontinued and the personnel associated with the program have been reassigned, yet the requirement persisted and its costs were passed on to the consumer. The NRA-ILA supported the repeal and is pleased it’s now in effect.”

Back home, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is currently investigating the benefits of local police ballistics databases on criminal investigations, known as the Australian Ballistic Information Network (ABIN). The study is being funded by CrimTrac, the national information-sharing service for police and national security agencies. Interviews with investigators across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia who have used ballistics databases as part of their investigations have so far found no bearing in 22 cases, although such data has helped identify the offender in a total of four situations. Other initial results show three incidents led to arrests and three created leads.

CrimTrac also hosts the National Firearms Interface (NFI), which has been allocated $4.3 million worth of funding with the aim of hosting a single record of every firearm in Australia – both registered firearms and those seized from crime scenes – detailing every event in its history. It is scheduled to be rolled out by December this year. This will then support the ABIN database, which came at a cost of $5.6 million. CrimTrac claims that the NFI and ABIN are “vital tools” that will “break down information barriers to better target serious and violent offenders in our community, supporting police to get illegal firearms, and the criminals who use them, off our streets”.

SSAA National President Geoff Jones said that keeping a database tracking the unique identity of every registered firearm in Australia ‘just in case’ one is used to commit a crime is a blatant waste of money. “This initiative does nothing to prevent criminals from accessing or using illicit firearms to conduct their illegal business, and as the evidence shows, because these databases don’t tend to include illegal firearms that have never been registered and aren’t on the books, they achieve very little,” he said. “We know that theft from licensed firearm owners is thankfully a rare event, so keeping data capturing only the firearms owned by law-abiding firearm owners is nothing but a costly, time-wasting exercise.

“Furthermore, it almost insinuates that our prized and securely kept firearms are inevitably going to end up used in a crime, despite the evidence otherwise. While the SSAA supports the efforts of authorities in finding new tools to combat gun crime, we do not support programs that are a blatant waste of taxpayers’ money and that have already been proven to be wasteful.”

The SSAA-LA understands the results of the Australian-based study are due out later this year, with the findings to be then presented to the government of the day to inform policy.

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