joqlbv77.jpg

From left, Orest Ohar and Todd Lizotte, co-founders of stamped bullets, look through a telescope at marked bullets in their laboratory. The technology they have patented will match a firearm to the cartridge without having the firearm, thus helping to stop the trafficking of firearms.

LONDONDERRY | A local inventor's technology is taking center stage in a California political debate.

Todd Lizotte, whose office at Hitachi Via Mechanics in Londonderry overlooks Manchester Airport, is the principal inventor of "microstamping," which can be used to inscribe identifying marks on a gun's firing pin, leaving a tiny imprint on bullets and casings shot from the gun.

The California state Senate has sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger a proposal to make the process mandatory in California. If Schwarzenegger signs, all semiautomatic handguns sold in the state would have to carry the microstamping technology, according to a report in the Contra Costa Times. The law, the first of its kind in the nation, would take effect in 2010.

The newspaper reports that gun-control activists and law enforcement say the law would allow police to better find and track guns used in violent crimes by more definitively matching spent bullets and casings to a particular gun, but Second Amendment supporters and other opponents question the technology's reliability and say it would reduce the number of guns while raising prices.

Lizotte helped invent the technology in late 1993, when he and colleagues at ID Dynamics in Londonderry were evaluating ways to micromark small serial numbers on metal components in the aerospace, automotive and medical industries in order to help trace items that might be stolen or to identify evidence from a crash site.

A self-described gun-owning, conservative Republican and card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association, Lizotte said he disagrees with the members of the gun lobby who say that his technology will interfere with the Second Amendment right to bear arms by raising prices to unacceptable levels.

According to Lizotte, some lobbyists have said a microstamping requirement would add approximately $300 to the price of a gun.

Lizotte said his company sent the technology to a Missouri company that computed how much the process would cost, based on volume and necessary components, among other things. Lizotte said the company, LaserLight, figured the cost for microstamping handguns would range from 50 cents to $3 per surface.

"I believe in the Second Amendment, and in Second-Amendment rights," Lizotte said. "I see this as the most benign technology possible. It’s a white-hat technology for law enforcement, and it’s the most benign technology that I can think of with regards to anything that would be dealing with my rights as a gun owner."

He offers the technology royalty-free, meaning that while he owns the patent to the design, firearm manufacturers would not have to pay to use the patent.

Lizotte, the director of the Emerging Technology Group at Hitachi Via Mechanics, said microstamping adds an intentional mark to all the "unintentional" marks with which fans of prime-time crime dramas are already familiar: the "tool marks" or grooves and ridges that investigators use to match a bullet or shell casing to the gun it was fired from.

"These things are different types of small microstructures like twists of a tool bit or lateral marks due to some type of cutting or milling operation. Our technology just utilizes the same surfaces. Except these marks can be alphanumerics, numbers and letters, or they can be geometric codes, or codes based on geometric shapes, which have some type of significance, like a code or something that can lead back to make, model, date, or manufacturer of that particular firearm."

The problem with matching tool marks between guns and bullets, however, is that investigators must have both pieces of the puzzle. Microstamping eliminates that need by leaving an imprint on the bullet or casing that investigators can trace back to a particular gun, Lizotte said.

"There are some people that buy firearms that go out and commit murders and they own the firearm, the idea being that if nobody recovers the firearm, they can’t link that firearm to them. The reality of it is, the more (information) you can give law enforcement in order to do that type of analysis, the more effective they are, the more resourceful they are, and the more efficient they are," Lizotte said. "And I think that’s a good thing."

Speedy identification of a firearm gives law enforcement a greater chance of solving a crime, Lizotte said.

"The idea is to give law enforcement real-time information as soon as it's available, and that’s what microstamping does. It provides that instantaneous link to a firearm, which means that they can go and find its source."

In answering critics, Lizotte said he does not believe microstamping would put an undue burden on gun manufacturers. "They say that by adding this one small step, that their whole system is going to collapse. The reality is that it isn’t. "

He said he disagrees with opponents of the law who say microstamping could slow production.

"The technology for creating a microstamp is actually very trivial; you’re talking about one second worth of laser time for the process," Lizotte said.

The final argument made against microstamping relates to its ability to be tampered with, a notion Lizotte says is possible. But he also said that notion is overblown by gun lobbyists who argue it.

"The arguments that pins can be taken out, or things can be ground down are all arguments made by experts in the field," Lizotte said. "I had to read the manual on how to field strip it. It’s not an easy task."

Those who commit crimes using guns are not going to suddenly become smart enough to do what would be necessary to undo the gun's ability to microstamp.

"I hear all these arguments and they're valid if two things happen. One is that common criminals raise to criminal masterminds overnight, and (second is) that law enforcement is reduced ... to ... being bumbling fools, and we all know that’s not the case. The fact of the matter is that criminals will act as criminals do because they don’t feel like they’re ever going to get caught."

According to the Contra Costa Times' report, similar legislation has been introduced in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Massachusetts' senior U.S. senator, Edward Kennedy, is drafting a federal bill modeled on California's, according to information on the newspaper's Web site.

Currently, no laws or guidelines exist in New Hampshire regarding microstamping. In Londonderry, Lt. Paul Fulone said that the Londonderry police don't use the technology, but see its potential benefit.

"If that was a way to track bullets from handguns, then it would make sense," Fulone said. "I'm sure we'd be interested seeing as how it's something we could use."

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you