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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Friday, October 11, 2002
2:01 PM

Toles Watch... If I have the patience, I may try a daily take on the Post's new Conventionally Liberal Cartoonist, Tom Toles. I was checking out some of his past cartoons here and realized I wasn't paying enough attention to how intellectually dreary he is. This is in contrast to his draughtsmanship, which is unique and delightful. But that's another problem. His signature caricatures show Bush as a Cantaloupe-headed moron and Saddam Hussein as cute as a Teddy Bear. One leads the free world from the universal seat of liberty, the other massacres his own citizens when he's not training the equivalent of the Iraqi Gestapo for rape duty. But you have to admit he's adorable.

Today's cartoon goes after the National Rifle Association, with the NRA hiding behind a drawn blind as it tries to "think of new reasons why ballistic fingerprinting is a bad idea." I'm pretty sure the NRA has thought more deeply about this than Toles, and there are plenty of good reasons to abandon the idea that don't require NRA membership. Here are a few from a Newsday column by William Vizzard, who chairs a criminal justice department and is an ATF veteran:

The cost would be substantial, though not beyond our capacity if we choose to focus exclusively on guns manufactured in the future. We could require gunmakers to provide samples. Such a system, however, offers administrative and legal difficulties, such as assuring a chain of custody for the samples. And if the system were to be extended to all the more than 200 million guns currently in U.S. circulation, the problems and costs become prohibitive.

And there are other problems. One could use a firearm manufactured before the initiation of ballistic data collection. Alternatively, a firearm such as a revolver or a bolt-action rifle that did not automatically expel a cartridge case combined with a bullet that fragmented so severely on impact that it could not be scanned into the system would provide no evidence. Nor would projectiles fired from shotguns.

The database could still prove useful in instances where shooters did not plan their actions ahead of time, but likely not for cases such as the one in the Washington area. Unlike fingerprint and DNA databases collected from criminal offenders, ballistic samples cannot be targeted. The guns in police custody are the least likely to be useful in the future...

And the list goes on. If you really wanted to be comprehensive, you go after old guns. But as the author points out, that means you'd have to track down all the people out here with guns. And as I will point out, that would create a national database of firearms ripe for confiscation when the political wheel turns. Which, through other paths, is exactly what has happened in Australia and the U.K., with the predictable result that crime is rising very fast and London is now a more dangerous place to live than New York.

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