Microstamping technology was developed with the goal of easier ballistics identification and is often suggested as a way to limit the number of unsolved gun crimes. However, studies have shown that this technology is unreliable and can be easily defeated with common household tools. Furthermore, microstamping would likely place an unjust burden on law-abiding gun owners, while doing little to curtail criminal use.


Microstamping, ballistic imprinting, and ballistic engraving are all names given to a controversial concept that has been developed with the goal of aiding ballistics identification. Gun control advocacy groups are attempting to use microstamping to severely restrict the sale of firearms. Microstamping involves the use of laser technology to engrave a microscopic marking onto the tip of the firing pin and onto the breech face of a firearm. In theory, by using the pressure created when the firearm is fired, these etchings are transferred to the primer by the firing pin and to the cartridge case by the breech face.


On October 13, 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California signed AB 1471 into law, which was to define any newly designed semi-automatic pistol as an “unsafe handgun” unless the pistol was equipped with microstamping. The law took effect on May 17, 2013 when Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that all technological and patent related issues had been rectified. In 2014, a lawsuit was brought against the state of California by the National Shooting Sporting Foundation, arguing that the tenets of the legislation could never be met. The legislation was eventually upheld in 2018 when the California Supreme Court dismissed the case, saying that regardless of whether the law was difficult to enforce, it would remain on the books. On June 6, 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul of New York signed S4116a into law, which requires semiautomatic pistols sold in the state to be verified as a microstamping-enabled-pistol and the division of criminal justice services to certify the viability of microstamping-enabled pistols.  Similar legislation has been repeatedly introduced in New Jersey and Massachusetts, though these efforts have failed to become law thus far. California has also recently introduced an act to amend multiple sections of the penal code relating to firearms (SB 452), that if passed, would prohibit sale or transfer of a semi-automatic pistol after July 2027 unless it has been verified with microstamping.

Points of Interest

  • Recently in Washington DC, § 7–2505.03 (Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975) was amended to extend to a specified date for the implementation of the microstamping requirement for semi-automatic pistols from January 1, 2016 to January 1, 2018. An independent peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of the Association of Firearms and Toolmarks Examiners (AFTE) concluded that “implementing this technology will be much more complicated than burning a serial number on a few parts and dropping them into firearms being manufactured.”
  • Law enforcement groups that are in opposition to the concept pending further study include: The National Fraternal Order of Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the New York State Police, among others.
  • Criminals could easily contaminate a crime scene by taking microstamped casings from a shooting range and scattering them at the scene of a crime, thus implicating innocent gun owners in crimes they did not commit.
  • Additionally, criminals would be able to simply remove the microstamped parts and replace them with spare parts or use a revolver from which the cartridges are not ejected.
  • If microstamping were to be mandated, it is estimated that the number of firearms available for purchase would be dramatically reduced as not all manufacturers would have the capacity to retool their manufacturing processed to accommodate the new mandate, and that the price of firearms for all consumers, including law enforcement agencies, would dramatically increase by an additional $200.00 per firearm.

Moving Forward

Two separate research studies have concluded that this technology is “unreliable.” Research experts from the University of California – Davis, at the behest of the California State Legislature, found microstamping to be “flawed” and concluded that, “at the current time it is not recommended that a mandate for implementation of this technology in all semi-automatic handguns in the state of California be made.” Also, according to the UC Davis study, the codes on the face of the pin can easily be removed with household tools. Legislators need to be aware that further testing, analysis, and evaluation are required, and microstamping should not be legislatively mandated. Legislators should educate their constituents on the problems with microstamping technology and oppose legislation that attempts to mandate its use.

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