A New York state law requiring micro-stamping capability in new pistols is already five months behind schedule, with final results from a required study of the technology not expected until later this year.
Last June, Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers made New York the second state in the country to approve a measure requiring micro-stamping technology — in which a small, unique code is etched into bullet casings when they’re fired — in new semiautomatic pistols. The bill’s passage came amid worries over instances of gun violence statewide.
But the law came with a major caveat: Four years before the measure takes effect, the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) must certify whether micro-stamping is “technologically viable." Under the law, that was supposed to happen within 180 days of Hochul’s signature — which put the deadline in December 2022.
But DCJS missed that deadline and continues to study the technology— which means the four-year clock for the law to take effect hasn’t started yet.
Janine Kava, the DCJS spokesperson, said the division’s Office of Forensic Services has convened a working group to make the microstamping determination. The group’s goal is to finish its work and make a final decision before the end of the year, according to Kava.
“To date, this working group has compiled and reviewed scientific materials, held discussions with various stakeholders, and requested additional information,” she said in a statement. “However, given the scope of the inquiry and the volume of data to review, DCJS is continuing to determine whether such technology is viable.”
Part of the delay appears to have been over budgetary issues.
Under the law, DCJS’ study is required to include “live-fire testing evidence.” But last year’s law didn’t include any funding to complete the study. Last month, DCJS received funding for the study in the state’s new budget; it’s expected to cost up to $500,000, according to the division.
“Because of funding concerns, they were unable to complete the work,” said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the bill and has been in contact with DCJS. “So, they will be reaching out to firearms experts outside DCJS, and they do have funding from the budget that we just finished.”
Gun control advocates had been pushing New York to approve a micro-stamping mandate for well over a decade, dating back to then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg putting money behind an unsuccessful lobbying push in 2010.
Supporters have billed the technology as a potential aid to law enforcement. By requiring pistols to stamp the shell casings with a unique code, it theoretically makes it easier for investigators to track bullets back to an individual firearm and who it is registered to.
But gun owner organizations have long pushed back. They argue that the technology, which is still relatively new, is unproven and unfeasible since it’s not widely used anywhere in the U.S.
New York’s 2022 law set out a four-and-a-half-year timeline for implementing the microstamping mandate assuming the technology proved reliable.
First, DCJS would study the technology and determine whether it’s viable. Once it issues the certification, DCJS will have a year to issue performance standards and testing criteria for microstamp-equipped pistols and for the technology itself, and two years to come up with a variety of other rules and procedures for shops that sell and service pistols.
The penalties for selling a non-microstamp-equipped pistol — the centerpiece of the mandate — won’t kick in until four years after DCJS says the technology is viable.
During her election campaign last year, Hochul, a Democrat, touted the microstamping law as a symbol of her fight against a scourge of gun violence.
“We’re microstamping bullets so it’s easier to catch criminals,” Hochul said in a campaign ad that featured an image of the Tops supermarket in Buffalo that was the site of a racist and deadly mass shooting last year.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan) sponsored the microstamping bill. He acknowledged he’s concerned about the apparent delay.
“We need to get this moving,” he said. “But we understand that we want to do it right. We'll be coordinating with DCJS to make sure that these regulations are written and put into effect as soon as possible.”
Hoylman-Sigal said he anticipates DCJS will ultimately determine microstamping is feasible.
New York isn’t the only state that has struggled to implement its microstamping law.
California first passed a microstamping mandate in 2007, though the state didn’t end up determining the technology is feasible until 2013. But gun manufacturers got around the law by declining to manufacture new models, according to the Giffords Law Center , a gun-control organization.
"It really is a technology that has the potential to be a real powerful game-changer in terms of police investigations," said David Pucino, deputy chief counsel of the Giffords Law Center.
A new California law allowing the state to slowly start removing old models from the state's list of approved firearms recently took effect.
The California law that included the original microstamping requirement is also the subject of a lawsuit working its way through the federal courts.