The goal of the NanoMark tests was to rehabilitate microstamping's image by rectifying what NanoMark believed were Beddow's skewed observations. The company tested a Smith & Wesson Model 4006 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun that was outfitted with microstamping technology using ID Dynamics' optimization protocol. This firearm was tested with more than 2,500 rounds, using five different brands of ammunition.
The company concluded that the optimized S&W 4006 firing-pin impression was exceptionally repeatable and marked the primer of the cartridge with a transfer rate of 100 percent, with all eight digits of the gun's serial number legible 97 percent of the time using optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Even multiple hit primers — a condition that manifests itself during very fast consecutive firing — were still legible by using electron microscopy imaging methods.
Breech face marks, designed to provide an auxiliary source for forming the code if the firing pin is defaced or replaced, provided further opportunities to compile all eight digits. These marks transferred 96 percent of the time.
The company reports the tests confirm that a firearm outfitted with microstamping technology is more than capable of producing codes onto cartridges. According to a 2000 study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, semi-automatic handguns have an average time-to-crime range of 1.6 to 6.4 years, which means these guns are frequently recovered after firing fewer than 500 rounds. The NanoMark test involved five times that volume of cartridges and still enjoyed acceptable transfer rates.
Interestingly, before the NanoMark tests were performed, several of Beddow's assertions were almost immediately rebutted by his own university president, UC-Davis Chancellor Larry N. Vanderhoef. In a May 15 letter to Feuer, Vanderhoef apologized for complicating rather than elucidating the issue, saying Beddow had conducted his analysis using non-optimized firing pins and vintage firearms that had never been considered for testing because of their model age (which ranged from 10 years to over 50 years) and inconsistent mechanical condition. Beddow tested firing pins from six different brands of semi-automatic handguns, two semi-automatic rifles, and a shotgun.
The chancellor noted there were other problems with the study. Vanderhoef says Beddow's study had not been peer reviewed, was not commissioned by the state legislature, and drew false conclusions regarding AB 1471, which calls for microstamping of only new models of semi-automatic handguns. Vanderhoef's letter to Feuer came just before AB 1471 passed the Assembly in September.Black market fears
Microstamping critics are not impressed. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) says, "AB 1471 fails to recognize the unfortunate reality that mandating the technology for firearms sold each year in the state of California will create an illegal black market for 'non-laser engraved' firearms and further increase illegal, interstate firearm trafficking."
According to the NSSF, the new law also fails to consider the tens of millions of firearms in circulation that have not been, and cannot now be, micro-laser engraved. There are also far more firearms stolen each year in this country (approximately 500,000, or nearly one every minute), than there are violent crimes committed each year with firearms.
"It is an unfortunate reality, but criminals modify their behaviors and will always find ways to obtain firearms," says NSSF spokesperson Ted Novin.
The microstamp is only 15- to 25-microns deep — one micron is 1,000th of a millimeter — and critics say it is easily rubbed off with household tools. There is also concern that active gun hobbyists, who must replace their firing pins frequently, will get caught in a potential logistical nightmare, as well as face additional costs.
The NSSF speculates the California microstamping law could also affect the cost of guns in markets elsewhere because firearms for commercial, law enforcement and military markets are all manufactured at the same time by the same process at the same plant. Since companies do not have law enforcement-only production lines and do not have California-only production lines, costs would have to be spread across all products in all markets, resulting in significantly higher prices for all products.