UAlbany Researchers Develop CSI Tool

Apr 4, 2014

Researchers at the University at Albany are developing a fast, accurate method for crime scene investigators to detect and recover gunshot residue from a crime scene or suspect. The process has a promising future.

Igor Lednev
Credit UAlbany

For years, New York's gun control lobby pushed hard in favor of a process that involves a gun's firing pin stamping cartridges with unique identifying numbers.

Back in April 2008, Martin Golden, A Republican Senator from Brooklyn, was among state lawmakers considering microstamping legislation.   "If we solve 10, 15 per cent more crimes in the future, and the bad guys know we're out there solving these crimes, they'll think twice.  They'll think twice about using that gun. They'll think twice about carrying that gun."

But the prevailing argument was that those who possess illegal handguns aren't likely to use any that employ microstamping technology, ever.  And the technology was flawed:  A 2008 National Academy of Sciences report said there was no conclusive evidence that the markings produced by a gun are identical over time and under different conditions. 

Fast forward to 2014: UAlbany researchers Igor Lednev and Justin Bueno have developed an approach that combines tape lifting and infrared spectroscopic imaging. Lednev says the process beats microstamping hands down.   "Microstamping is a very useful technique which can link a bullet to a specific gun, but you need to find a bullet. What we're saying, we don't need even bullet, we just need gunshot residue."

When a gun is fired, particles from the bullet are discharged onto the shooter's hands and clothes, nearby furniture, and other surfaces. The residue is easily collected at crime scenes.  Lednev and Bueno have been working closely with the New York State Police in conducting research.  Lednev explains "they support our research in various ways. They are very interested in implementation of this technology."

The new approach could also be less politically divisive than microstamping proved to be, especially among gun rights activists. During the 2010 legislative session, James Rabbia, the plant manager at the Remington Arms factory in Ilion, cheered the defeat of New York's microstamping bill.   "Even if it did work, due to its costly nature, it would affect all of us adversely, as well as we don't feel it would help law enforcement significantly."

The UAlbany chemists' residue processing method creates a molecular "fingerprint" which, unlike microstamping, needs no legislation and does not involve or affect gun dealers and manufacturers.

This week, Pro-SAFE Act legislators held a press conference at the state capitol, calling for passage of more gun laws, including microstamping gun casings.

Here's a link to the UAlbany researchers' scientific paper:  Attenuated Total Reflectance-FT-IR Imaging for Rapid and Automated Detection of Gunshot Residue by Justin Bueno and Igor K. Lednev