'Coining' bullets; Londonderry firm anticipates big sales for shell ID system


PDA

Drizzt
March 18, 2003, 04:20 PM
The Union Leader (Manchester NH)

March 16, 2003 Sunday STATE EDITION

SECTION: BUSINESS; Pg. D1

LENGTH: 1878 words

HEADLINE: 'Coining' bullets; Londonderry firm anticipates big sales for shell ID system

BYLINE: By DAVID LAZAR Sunday News Correspondent

BODY:
WHILE BELTWAY fatal sniping incidents produced horrific headlines last fall, a local engineering duo was quietly earning attention of its own, inventing technology it boasted could instantly match a bullet to the gun that fired it.

It wasn't long before telephones at Londonderry's NanoVia, LP, offices began ringing -- justice officials nationwide intrigued by technology that could literally "coin" a shell casing with the gun's make, model and serial number while firing.

"We just put it out there for the state justice departments to look at, and I think the thing that surprised us -- in a good way -- was that the forensics people were the ones coming back to us," says NanoVia engineer and vice president Todd Lizotte.

Now, the nation's most populous state -- in people and guns -- is stepping up as the first to give Lizotte's and partner Orest Ohar's technology a test spin for a statewide ballistics identification program -- one that could, if implemented, net the Delta Drive duo more than $15 million.

"From a law enforcement perspective, I can tell you that, if we're able to overcome the obstacles, to have the make, model and serial number of a semi-automatic weapon left at a crime scene would be tremendously beneficial," says Randy Rossi, the director of the California Justice Department's firearms division.

While this is their first foray into crime-fighting, Lizotte and Ohar have already made their fame designing laser machines than can drill tiny holes -- holes 1/100th the width of a human hair in everything from microchip casings to perfume atomizers and medication dispensers. Their latest invention would etch codes into the chambers and breech faces of handguns about 1/10th the width of a human hair, codes that detectives at a crime scene could instantly read through a microscope or through a special palm-size mobile lab the pair is developing.

Codes that, if proven effective during what Rossi predicts will be a six-month trial period, could stand to make NanoVia some serious money.

That's because California's 43 handgun manufacturers would then each have to buy the technology for their assembly lines at an estimated $400,000 per machine. The cost to the consumer would be about $4 to $5 extra per handgun, Lizotte predicts.

As for how the technology works, it's pure physics: Each time a gun is fired, there's a split second when the shell casing, locked in the chamber, becomes almost fluid because of the heat and pressure that have built up, and presses against the chamber's sides. It's at that point that the imprint, invisible to the naked eye, would be stamped onto the casing.

Once detectives read those numbers, they'd be able to tap into the gun manufacturers' databases to find a match.

It's a far cry from the so-called ballistics fingerprinting system made famous during last fall's sniper manhunt.

So far Maryland and New York are the only two states to have that sleuthing system in place -- one that requires manufacturers to register two bullets fired from each new handgun they sell, bullets that have unique markings because of imprints created inside the barrel.

Produced by Montreal-based Forensics Technology Inc., that system creates statewide databases for those bullets and bullets recovered from crime scenes to be entered. It isn't without flaws -- namely, the ability of a criminal to simply file the inside of a gun's barrel and alter its fingerprint.

It's one reason California ruled out FTI's technology when looking for a bullet-ID system. Other reasons included accuracy -- a more than 70 percent "miss" rate when different types of ammunition (in hardness and materials) were used -- and the fact that the database simply wouldn't have been large enough to handle the volume of handguns sold in California each year, at an estimated 1,000 a day.

NanoVia's technology apparently wouldn't need such a database, since manufacturers would be required to keep those records in their own files, which could then be accessed by law enforcement.

As for the ability to tamper with the codes, Lizotte and Ohar say they're actually placed in several spots within the gun, to prevent criminals from being able to "chop up" the weapons and eliminate the linkage.

Is that to say there aren't looming questions? No, says Rossi, who intends to test things like reliability, durability and the effects of changing ammunitions over the next few months.

There's also the question of a booming black market, since most handguns used in crimes have changed hands several times before the crime has occurred.

And then there's the matter of the 200 million guns already in circulation, which such databases wouldn't cover, a question Lizotte and Rossi answer simply, "You've got to start somewhere."

They're the same questions Granite State forensics experts were asking as they searched for a statewide bullet-ID system.

Next month, New Hampshire will take delivery of a modified FTI system, used in neighboring states, that doesn't account for the registration of new handguns, but provides a database for bullets recovered at crime scenes.

The need for an all-new approach isn't here the way it is in California, says Tim Pifer, lab director for New Hampshire's State Police Forensics Laboratory.

Then, there's the matter of the price: New Hampshire's $280,000 system will be coming free of charge through a federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms grant.

"I think the difference is, whereas we get a couple of hundred gun cases a year, they'll get that number in a week out in California," says Pifer. "It's just not necessary here. Obviously, the miss rate is of some concern, but then again, you run into problems with fingerprint systems as well, where you may not get a hit, but you know the prints are in there. It just may take a little while longer. We're not at a point where the technology is foolproof, but this is something that's going to help us. And, obviously, with our system, the price was right."

Rossi and gun control advocates in California say the price is also right for their state, since the costs would end up being transferred largely to manufacturers.

As for the questions of a black market, advocates say the technology would, at the very least, put investigators with the first person to handle the gun -- a step, given the state's crime rate, investigators often never get to.

The possibility that the smart criminal could simply remove the shell casings from a crime scene is hardly an issue, says Rossi, who contends most gun crimes in his state are conducted in the heat of passion. Most fleeing shooters not having the time to start searching for their casings.

In the end, Rossi and other advocates say their support for the Nano Via approach comes down to one thing: a level of precision that appears to be lacking in the FTI system.

"What this is designed to do is give law enforcement the gun when they don't recover the gun," says Eric Horovitz, policy director for the Berkley, Calif.,-based Educational Fund To Stop Gun Violence.

"The technology they're talking about is very valuable if it delivers on its promise. ... What you get to is a live body that had its hands on the actual gun, and that's a priceless lead. It's like a license plate. You're not just looking for a blue Chevy anymore, but Bob Jones' blue Chevy."

Predictably, talk of NanoVia's technology is already reigniting rhetoric between groups like Horovitz's and gun ownership advocates who see it as another form of gun registration and a potential flouting of Second Amendment rights.

Horovitz last week challenged pro-gun lobbies to look at the technology for its potential crime-fighting merits and not its political implications.

"Anybody who wants people who commit crimes with guns to be punished should be in favor of this," Horovitz says. "If it connects the evidence left behind at crime scenes with the people who produced it, anyone who argues against it is pro-criminal. There's no other element of the gun debate that's implicated by this. And any gun advocates who argue against this are showing their true colors. They're not concerned about crime, but about control."

Reached last week, representatives from two of the nation's most powerful pro-gun lobbies said it wasn't control they were concerned about, but freedom.

While the spokesmen admitted they'd heard little to nothing yet about NanoVia's new system, they did speak about it guardedly as another way to tax gun owners and potentially confiscate weapons.

"This could be very costly to law-abiding gun owners, who would end up paying the price for other people's criminal negligence," says NRA spokesman Kelly Whitley.

"The NRA supports law enforcement's use of technology to trace bullets. But we're not supportive of a registry at the law enforcement level or at the manufacturers' level."

A spokesman for the gun manufacturers' lobby, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, meanwhile, was quick to point to previous failings of bullet-ID systems such as FTI's, failings that in some cases fingered the wrong people and took weapons away unjustly.

"I think what we're seeing clearly are high expectations versus a lack of results when it comes to ballistics imaging," NSSF spokesman Gary Mehalik says. "I mean, it makes people feel good, but it's accomplished little to nothing so far. If it doesn't work and it costs a lot, I don't see a lot of value to it. I want to see what the (experts) have to say about this before I form an opinion. ... I want to know about things like how this technology lasts over the pressures of time, how it is affected by changes in the hardness of ammunition."

They're answers Rossi concedes he, too, needs to know before California lawmakers consider implementing NanoVia's technology -- answers he promises to gain over the next six months as forensics experts put guns the firm has encoded to the test.

If given the go-ahead, the technology could be in place within another six months, Rossi says, since no bureaucracy would be required.

Like honors students standing by their science fair project, Lizotte and Ohar are anything but shy about their confidence in NanoVia's system. They've got a lot on the line here -- the potential for an eight-figure payout that could pave the way to contracts with other states, if proven successful.

Self-proclaimed gun enthusiasts themselves, the two are convinced they've designed technology that, for the first time, leaves little to chance and does so without putting people's names inside a government database.

"Our technology gives a unique code specific to the gun that is unambiguous," Lizotte says. "This alleviates all the costs and liabilities and firmly places the forensics analysis where it should be: with the forensics people, and not with the manufacturer or the state.

"I say that this technology is the lesser of two evils," he said. "I would rather have the knowledge that my records aren't in a national database with my name attached, but rather in the manufacturer's files. You're going to have your fringe elements on either side. I think this is a happy medium. I'd rather, as a gun enthusiast, have control of my own destiny than have it in someone else's hands."

If you enjoyed reading about "'Coining' bullets; Londonderry firm anticipates big sales for shell ID system" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
Greg L
March 18, 2003, 04:26 PM
So what they are saying is that if you want to shoot someone you should use a revolver and drop a couple of random casings that you picked up at the range (try to get the same caliber though ;) ).

The problem with building a better mousetrap is that the mice aren't as dumb as they would like to believe (even if you got over the guns already in circulation hurdle).

Greg

Waitone
March 18, 2003, 04:33 PM
We're making progress here. With one system government has tied together firearms, ammo, and spare parts. The only component missing is a registry of gunsmiths and a log of the work they do.

Another solution looking for a problem.

CWL
March 18, 2003, 04:46 PM
That's just stupid.

Steel brushes will destroy the chamber & bore with enough scrubbing.

Drop in a new barrel! Drop in an old barrel!

It STILL wouldn't have countered the Beltway snipers since they shot mostly from inside the trunk of their car. AND that gun was stolen!

Pick up a few shells from the range next time, reload with these, pass them around. There'll be multiple codes on the shell.

In most "crimes of passion" it is immediately evident who the perp is: -husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover. No great need in this instance.

cordex
March 18, 2003, 04:56 PM
Drop in a new barrel! Drop in an old barrel!
Solution: New legislation regulating transfer of barrels ... or maybe all "gun parts" as firearms in and of themselves.
Pick up a few shells from the range next time, reload with these, pass them around. There'll be multiple codes on the shell.
Solution: Make anyone who wishes to reload obtain a type 06 FFL and raise rates from $30 for three years to $500 for two. Force all licensed ammunition manufacturers to polish brass to remove previous marks prior to reloading or to use new brass.

Ohhh so tempting, isn't it Mrs. Brady?

HSMITH
March 18, 2003, 05:02 PM
A hone and 10 seconds would make their $400,000 machine disappear. A piece of of fine sandpaper in a split dowel on the end of a drill (polish reamer around here) would defeat it. If I can defeat this with things I have laying here in the house without even looking hard and do it in under a minute I think it would be a waste. Some criminals are stupid, but VERY few are dumb enough to use brand new legally purchased guns in the commission of crimes.

More BS to villify the common citizen.

Standing Wolf
March 18, 2003, 06:04 PM
That's because California's 43 handgun manufacturers would then each have to buy the technology for their assembly lines at an estimated $400,000 per machine. The cost to the consumer would be about $4 to $5 extra per handgun, Lizotte predicts.

Yippee! Free money in the People's Republic of California!

I'm sure the "$4 to $5 extra per handgun" would actually amount to $50 to $100. It's all just another way to drive up the price of firearms to make it more difficult for commoners to keep and bear arms.

Guy B. Meredith
March 18, 2003, 07:25 PM
Looks like this will be putting high cap revolvers on the top of the most desirable list. Don't need to worry about picking up brass.

On the other hand, BGs won't worry about leaving brass around as long as the pistol was not acquired in their name.

blades67
March 18, 2003, 07:58 PM
"Anybody who wants people who commit crimes with guns to be punished should be in favor of this," Horovitz says. "If it connects the evidence left behind at crime scenes with the people who produced it, anyone who argues against it is pro-criminal. There's no other element of the gun debate that's implicated by this. And any gun advocates who argue against this are showing their true colors. They're not concerned about crime, but about control."

I can be "anti-crime" and "anti-control" at the same time.:rolleyes:

If you enjoyed reading about "'Coining' bullets; Londonderry firm anticipates big sales for shell ID system" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!