Maryland Shuts Down Gun Tracking Database After 15 Years of Failure

Database didn't help solve a single crime, cost millions

November 9, 2015

A Maryland database containing a spent casing to match every gun sold in the state since 2000 has been shut down after failing to solve a single crime.

Effective Oct. 1, the Maryland General Assembly abolished the state's requirement that manufacturers send a shell fired from each gun they sold in the state in order for state police to photograph and catalog the shells for use in potential future investigations. Over a period of 15 years the database collected more than 300,000 shell casings and created "ballistic fingerprints" for them. The system, based on the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network but expanded to include all guns in Maryland, was designed to compare spent casings from gun sales against those found at crime scenes.

However, despite spending what the Baltimore Sun estimated to be $5 million, the system never solved a single crime. Poorly designed and implemented software kept police from using the system to identify crime casings. Though a firearm leaves unique markings on the casings it fires the Maryland database was too imprecise to effectively compare casings.

The system was so ineffective that police stopped taking pictures of each new shell casing they received in 2007 and politicians from both parties eventually supported abolishing it. "If there was any evidence whatsoever—any evidence—that this was helpful in solving crimes, we wouldn't have touched it," state senator Bobby Zirkin (D.), who chairs the committee that looked at the database, told the Baltimore Sun. "The police came in and said it was useless. No one contradicted that."

Gun owners also opposed the mandate for needlessly complicating the process of buying a gun and adding wear to each gun sold in Maryland. Frank Sloane, owner of Pasadena Gun & Pawn in Anne Arundel County, told the Baltimore Sun that the database was "a waste."

"There's things that they could have done that would have made sense," he said. "This didn't make any sense."

The General Assembly has authorized Maryland State Police to sell off the casings for scrap but the police department has yet to decide what they will do with the massive cache.