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NRA Firearms Law Seminar – Panel III

 1:00PM CDT – Dwight Van Horn

Van Horn’s presentation is on “Firearms Forensics in the Courtroom.” His presentation covers quite a lot of detail. First he speaks about the history of firearm and toolmark identification. It’s actually a fascinating talk, that I wish I could sum up for you, but there’s just too much detail in his talk to successfully summarize. Not all of it is complicated. For instance, a defendent claims “I dropped it, and the gun just went off!” Well, how do you test that? Or perhaps a defendant claims, “It was a hair trigger!” Well, if you do a trigger test, and it’s a 6lb pull, surely that’s not a “hair trigger.”

He speaks to evaluating ballistic fingerprinting, where they asked for five consecutive barrels manufactured from a batch of 100 in .45 ACP produced by a manufacturer. The challenge was whether firearms examiners could distibguish, by bullets fired from each barrel, between the fact that there were five barrels. Time after time they were able to.

Question from the audience: “Has microstamping gotten to the point where it’s useful in forensic firearms identification?”

Mr. Van Horn: “Nope!” He points to several studies that show it’s not particularly useful, and even speaking about California Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s forensic experts which concluded the technology was useless, which he later overruled.

So don’t ever let them tell you microstamping is about public safety.

He goes on to give a visual presentation, showing various techniques. Things I didn’t know: on examining cartridges cases, he notes that they tend to look more to breech face impressions rather than firing pin impressions. Did you know a unique impression is left on a cartridge case when it’s stripped from the magazine? “It’s called a magazine signature,” notes Mr. Van Horn.

1:50PM CDT – Massad Ayoob

I don’t think Massad Ayoob needs an introduction for very many readers, but he’s a well known firearms instructor and expert witness for the courts since 1979. If you don’t have a copy “In the Gravest Extreme” in your library, you really ought to.

Mas Ayoob’s lecutre is “Debunking the Myths of Armed Self-Defense.” You’ve all heard them. The “Drag the corpse inside and plant a knife in his hand” myth. The “Shoot and Scoot” myth. “I can shoot anyone in my house” myth. Mas debunks them all. (paraphrased) “The single most common thing I get called on by attorneys around the country are mistakes that have been made after the last piece of brass hits the ground.”

He stresses the importance of always calling 911 when a gun is drawn. The first person to file a report is considered the victim. Echoing Andrew Branca, he doesn’t advise completely not speaking to police for people who have engaged in legitimate self-defense. “Point out the evidence. Point out witnesses. Tell the police you’ll sign a complaint. Establish yourself as the victim, and the guy on the ground as the perpetrator.”

Mas notes that a lot of people have bought the Gun Control movement’s assertion that anyone can use deadly force if they are merely frigtened. Has asks if anyone remembers the Brady billboard to that effect. He implores people who are instructors to be sure to debunk the myth among students.

Mas discusses the immunity laws many states have passed that prevent people being sued for acts of self-defense. But most of these cases are untested. You get immunity for self-defense, but who decides whether a case was self-defense? You may have to go through a hearing or perhaps even a full trial to assert your immunity.

It’s quite apparet why Mas Ayoob is in demand for expert testimony. He’s probably the best speaker of the day among a crowd of pretty good speakers already.

2 Responses to “NRA Firearms Law Seminar – Panel III”

  1. ” five consecutive barrels manufactured from a batch of 100 in .45 ACP produced by a manufacturer. The challenge was whether firearms examiners could distibguish, by bullets fired from each barrel, between the fact that there were five barrels. Time after time they were able to.”

    That’s a far cry from being able to tell which barrel each bullet was fired from.

    And even if ballistic matching is perfect, such correspondence between bullet and gun is useless in tracing down a murderer; it only traces the gun back to its original owner. So, for example, I’m to be accused of murder because of gun I sold, then that gal sold, and then was stolen from that guy’s truck? Why does America have such insidious laws on the books?

    • Alpheus says:

      And this is why we shouldn’t have any sort of registry (among other reasons).

      On the other hand, if the police officer confiscates a gun from a suspect, they could potentially match that gun to a given shooting. Depending on certain factors, that may or may not be useful.

      I was going to say that, in the case of self defense, if the police can trace the bullet back to your gun, it might actually be useful…but then, when you are saying “Yeah, I shot the guy. I feared for my life. There are two witnesses over here, and his buddy ran off and threw his knife in the bushes over there. Now I’m going to shut up and request that I’d like to speak to my lawyer!” it’s hard to see how matching the bullets to the barrel is going to matter all that much…

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