Microstamping & Ballistic Identification in the District of Columbia

Ballistic Identification

The District of Columbia’s Chief of Police must ensure that any handgun to be registered in the District is submitted for a ballistics identification procedure.1

Any applicant seeking to register a handgun in the District must, prior to transfer, present the approved firearm registration application to the licensed firearms dealer selling the handgun and take the handgun directly to the Firearms Registration Section of the District’s Metropolitan Police Department for completion of a ballistic identification procedure, and pay a $12 fee.2 If the applicant purchases from a dealer located in another jurisdiction, the applicant must have that dealer transport the applicant’s handgun to a licensed dealer in the District where the applicant will accept transfer pending completion of a ballistic identification procedure.3

Failure to comply with the ballistics identification requirement will result in the denial of the registration application or revocation of the registration for that handgun, and may subject the handgun owner to criminal charges.4

Microstamping Requirements

The District prohibits licensed dealers from selling or offering for sale any firearm that does not have imbedded into the metal portion of such firearm a unique manufacturer’s identification number or serial number.5

Beginning January 1, 2018, the District will prohibit any licensed dealer from selling or offering for sale any semiautomatic pistol manufactured on or after January 1, 2018 that is not “microstamp-ready.”6 “Microstamp-ready” means manufactured to produce a unique alpha-numeric or geometric code on at least two locations on each expended cartridge case that identifies the make, mode, and serial number of the pistol.7 A semiautomatic pistol will be deemed microstamp-ready if it is:

  • Manufactured in the District of Columbia;
  • Manufactured on or after January 1, 2018, and delivered or caused to be delivered by any manufacturer to a firearms dealer in the District; or
  • Manufactured on or after January 1, 2018, and sold, offered for sale, loaned, given or transferred by a firearms dealer in the District.8

A semiautomatic pistol manufactured after January 1, 2018 that is not microstamp-ready and was acquired outside of the District by a person who was not a District resident at the time of acquisition but who subsequently moved into the District shall be registered if all relevant requirements of the District firearms control laws are met, and may be sold, transferred, or given away but only through a licensed dealer.9 If a dealer lawfully acquires a microstamp-ready semiautomatic pistol that was originally purchased by a non-dealer resident of the District, the dealer shall not sell, offer for sale, loan, give, or transfer that pistol if he or she knows or reasonably should have known that the unique alphanumeric or geometric code associated with that pistol has been changed, altered, removed, or obliterated, excepting for normal wear.10

Beginning January 1, 2018, a manufacturer transferring a pistol to a firearms dealer for sale in the District will be required to certify that the pistol was manufactured on or after January 1, 2018, and that:

  • The pistol will produce a unique alpha-numeric or geometric code on each cartridge case that identifies the make, model, and serial number of the pistol that expended the cartridge casing; and
  • The manufacturer will supply the Chief of Police with the make, model, and serial number of the pistol that expended the cartridge case, when presented with an alpha-numeric or geometric code from a cartridge case, provided, that the cartridge case was recovered as part of a legitimate law enforcement investigation.11

Except for normal wear, the District prohibits any person from changing, altering, removing or obliterating the unique alpha-numeric or geometric code associated with that pistol.12 Replacing a firing pin that has been damaged or worn and is in need of replacement for the safe use of the pistol or for a legitimate sporting purpose shall not alone be evidence that someone has violated this prohibition.13

See our Ballistic Identification and Firearm Microstamping policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

  1. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03(d). A ballistics identification procedure is, generally, a process, approved by the Chief of Police, undertaken to identify markings unique to a particular firearm or the ammunition used by the firearm. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2399.1.
  2. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2320.3(f), (g).
  3. Id.
  4. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2320.6.
  5. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2504.08(a).
  6. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2504.08(b).D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2504.08(b).
  7. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(a)(3).
  8. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(b).
  9. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(c)(1).
  10. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(c)(2).
  11. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(e).
  12. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(d)(1).
  13. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2505.03(d)(2).

Microstamping & Ballistic Identification in California

See our Microstamping & Ballistic Identification policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Microstamping: In 2007, California became the first jurisdiction in the nation to enact legislation requiring handgun microstamping. Microstamping means equipping a firearm with a microscopic array of characters that can be used to identify the make, model, and serial number of the firearm, that are etched in two or more places on the interior surface or internal working parts of the firearm, and that are transferred by imprinting on each cartridge case when the firearm is fired.1 Microstamping would enable law enforcement to use California’s handgun purchaser database to match a cartridge case found at a crime scene to the individual who purchased the handgun. The technology is a valuable crime-fighting tool because it helps law enforcement solve gun crimes where the actual firearms have not been recovered.

California’s Crime Gun Identification Act of 2007 requires all new models of semiautomatic pistols manufactured for sale in the state to be designed and equipped with microstamping technology. The law stated that it would go into effect as soon as the state Department of Justice (“DOJ”) certified that the technology used to create the imprint is available to more than one manufacturer unencumbered by any patent restrictions.2 DOJ certified that such technology is available unencumbered by any patent restrictions on May 17, 2013.3 However, this requirement has been challenged by the gun lobby in federal court and the outcome of this litigation is still pending.

DOJ may also approve a method of equal or greater reliability and effectiveness in identifying the specific serial number of a firearm from spent cartridge casings discharged by that firearm to be thereafter required if this new method is also unencumbered by any patent restrictions.4

Ballistics Identification: In 2007, California adopted a law, effective January 1, 2009, authorizing local law enforcement agencies to enter representative samples of fired bullets and cartridge cases collected at crime scenes, from test-fires of firearms recovered at crime scenes, and other firearm information needed to investigate crimes into the U.S. Department of Justice, National Integrated Ballistic Information network (“NIBIN”).5 The law also requires the California DOJ to develop a protocol for law enforcement agencies to submit this information to NIBIN.6

In addition, in 2000, California adopted a law that required the Attorney General to conduct a study evaluating the feasibility and potential benefits of a statewide ballistics identification system.7 The Attorney General’s report, released to the public on January 29, 2003, states that automated ballistics fingerprinting systems are already assisting forensic experts using relatively small databases to compare cartridge cases recovered at crime scenes, and noted that the expansion of such databases to include hundreds of thousands of newly-manufactured firearms may potentially serve as a vital crime-solving tool. The report cautions, however, that under existing technology, adding the large volume of new guns sold in California could overburden the fingerprinting database, while providing limited useful forensic information to criminal investigators. The Attorney General is optimistic that technology will evolve rapidly to overcome these barriers to an effective ballistics fingerprinting system in California, and noted that further studies on the system are underway.8

  1. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7).
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7)(A), 32000.
  3. See Cal. Dept. of Justice, Firearms Bureau, Certification of Microstamping Technology Bureau of Firearms pursuant to Penal Code section 31910, subdivision (b)(7)(A) (May 17, 2013), at http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/firearms/infobuls/2013-BOF-03.pdf.
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7)(B).
  5. Cal. Penal Code § 11108.10(a).
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 11108.10(b).
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 34350.
  8. California Department of Justice, Feasibility of a California Ballistics Identification System (January 2003), available at: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/pdfs/firearms/pdf/03-013_report.pdf?.

Microstamping & Ballistic Identification in New York

In 2012, New York repealed its law requiring firearms manufacturers to include shell casings with handguns delivered to any person in New York, and requiring dealers to forward these casings to the State Police for entry into an automated database.1

See our Ballistic Identification policy summary and our Microstamping policy summary for comprehensive discussions of these issues.

  1. 2012 N.Y. ALS 55, Part B, § 1. See former N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 396-ff.