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Maryland State Police Shut Down Bullet Database

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    Maryland legislators authorized state police to mothball a database of spent shell casings from every handgun bought in the state since a 2000 gun safety bill. Scott MacFarlane reports. (Published Friday, Jan. 29, 2016)

    Maryland State Police are shutting down a long-running gun safety program due to ineffectiveness.

    The program, part of a landmark gun law passed in 2000, required the agency to create a massive database of firearms shell casings. Though troopers managed to store and meticulously file hundreds of thousands of casings, the system is being scrapped due to outdated technology.

    President Clinton attends the signing of the Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000.
    Photo credit: Maryland Governor's Office

    The Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000 was passed in Maryland with great fanfare, including an appearance by President Bill Clinton at the official bill-signing. The law mandated firearms manufacturers provide state police with a spent bullet casing of every handgun to be sold in Maryland. Those casings would be used to build a sweeping database to help investigators match bullets found at crime scenes with the firearms used to commit the crimes.

    “The database never worked as it was intended to work,” Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said.

    While evidence in the database helped with about two dozen prosecutions over 16 years, the casings never directly led investigators to a firearm used in a crime, Shipley said.

    State legislators passed legislation in 2015 authorizing state police to mothball the program. The agency permitted News4 I-Team access to the large state government complex, a former fallout shelter near Baltimore, in which the cache of bullet casings is stored. More than 300,000 casings are neatly filed, barcoded and stored in a series of boxes and cabinets by state police experts.

    The agency is uncertain about its future plans for the casings, Shipley said.

    “Part of the legislation passed to end the program authorized state police to sell these shell casings for scrap and have that money put into the state general fund,” he said. “We are not doing that immediately, to ensure that we’re not eliminating a database that may be useful.”

    The database was utilized by Prince George’s County prosecutors to convict 21-year-old Robert Garner of a 2004 murder in Oxon Hill. Though the casing failed to help investigators locate the firearm used in the homicide, the database was used to connect the defendant to the crime scene. A jury found Garner guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison.

    Relatives of the victim, Kelvin Braxton, said jurors appeared persuaded by the shell casing evidence produced by the database. Braxton’s sister told the I-Team jurors body language changed after seeing the presentations of the casings.

    “The jurors kind of had like a wild look on their face … almost to say, ‘That’s all I needed to see,’” Ke’Mia Braxton said.

    She said her family is thankful for the years of work and effort by state police to complete the database.

    Shipley said the agency is still well-positioned to solve gun crimes, through the use of DNA and fingerprint databases.

    “Those databases have been much more efficient in their operation in Maryland,” he said. “We’ve had much more success in their use.”