Local political leaders and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton on Monday urged Congress to adopt a national gun fingerprinting system that would use each weapon's unique markings to identify those used in killings.
Appearing at a Boyle Heights street corner where a 19-year-old Marine was killed in February, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), Mayor James K. Hahn, Councilman Nick Pacheco and Bratton said police need more tools to go after criminals with guns, be it the snipers who terrorized the Washington, D.C., area last year or gang members in Los Angeles.
"We need assistance, we need laws, we need tools, and this law will give us a phenomenal tool," Bratton said.
They urged passage of HR 24, known as "The Bullet Tracing Act to Reduce Gun Violence," which would require ballistics testing of all firearms manufactured in or imported to the U.S. Those ballistics records would be entered in a national database, accessible to federal and state law enforcement officials. Those violating the law would face fines of as much as $20,000 or revocation of manufacturing or importing licenses.
The National Rifle Assn. and gun advocates argue that a criminal could use a file to alter a gun barrel, thereby changing the markings it makes on a bullet. Etchings left by a gun can also change with wear and tear, they say.
But Bratton said gang members probably would not go to such lengths. And even if they altered a gun barrel, the hammer, when it hits the ammunition round, makes distinct markings that cannot be altered. He also said that a gun can be fired thousands of times without eroding its markings.
In response to critics, officials and anti-gun forces said the purpose of the act is to identify criminals, not law-abiding citizens. Of the 658 slayings in Los Angeles last year, they say, 84% resulted from the use of a firearm.
Pacheco said police need more tools to solve crimes, because gang members often intimidate witnesses.
Bratton and Hahn said they will take up the issue next week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.