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 Microstamping

In 2007, California became the first jurisdiction in the nation to enact legislation requiring firearm manufacturers to incorporate crime-solving microstamping technology in at least some firearms.

Microstamping technology causes a firearm to etch a unique microscopic code onto ammunition cartridge cases when the gun is fired that identifies the firearm’s make, model, and serial number. This technology could enable law enforcement to match cartridges found at crime scenes directly to the gun that fired them, similar to the way an automobile’s license plate may be used to identify a vehicle’s make, model, VIN, and registered owner.

Signed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger, California’s Crime Gun Identification Act of 2007 requires all newly developed models of semiautomatic pistols manufactured for sale in the state to be designed and equipped with microstamping technology. Under this law, California generally requires newly developed semiautomatic pistols models to incorporate a microstamping mechanism in at least two places on the interior of the firearm.1 (The California Department of Justice may also approve an alternative 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).2

The Crime Gun Identification Act stated that its requirement would go into effect as soon as the state Department of Justice certified that microstamping technology was available to more than one gun manufacturer unencumbered by any patent restrictions.3 DOJ issued that certification in May 2013.4 However, since this requirement only applies to new semiautomatic pistol models, the gun industry has effectively obstructed this law (as well as other design safety requirements under California law) by simply refusing to develop new handgun models for sale in California. Instead, the industry has sought to undermine the state’s public safety standards through litigation in state and federal courts, while simply continuing to sell new manufactures of older, less safe handgun models.

In 2020, California passed new legislation to address this obstruction and ensure more handguns certified for sale and manufacture in the state come equipped with basic lifesaving consumer safety features as well as a microstamping mechanism.5 Commencing July 1, 2022, this law will direct DOJ to remove three older, less safe semiautomatic pistol models from its roster of handguns certified for sale in California for every new certified microstamping model. This new law will, slowly but surely, help ensure that more commercially available handguns become fully compliant with California’s modern gun safety laws over time. Additionally, the bill will ease compliance for the firearm industry by requiring new semiautomatic pistol models to microstamp ammunition cartridge cases from a single place on the interior of the firearm, instead of two places, as required by existing law.6

For more information about California’s law requiring handgun models to meet basic consumer safety standards, see the Design Safety Standards in California section.

 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”).7 The law also requires the California DOJ to develop a protocol for law enforcement agencies to submit this information to NIBIN.8

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

  1. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b).[]
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7)(B).[]
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7)(A), 32000.[]
  4. 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.[]
  5. See 2020 AB 2847.[]
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 31910(b)(7) (effective July 1, 2022).[]
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 11108.10(a).[]
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 11108.10(b). 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. Cal. Penal Code § 34350. The Attorney General’s report, released to the public in January 2003, stated that automated ballistics fingerprinting systems were 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 could potentially serve as a vital crime-solving tool. 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.[]