of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 2000:1). It is important to remember that these figures—and the coverage of a national RBID—include only the primary gun market, which covers sales from licensed dealers to consumers. Cook and Ludwig (1996) estimate that about 2 million secondhand guns are sold each year in the United States, from a mixture of primary and secondary sources (where the secondary gun market includes transactions by unlicensed dealers).

The answer to the question of how many guns would have to be entered into a newly established national RBID each year depends crucially on the exact specification of the content of the database—whether the database is restricted to handguns and whether imported firearms from foreign countries are required to be included. As we discuss further in the next section, we generally assume that a national RBID would—at least initially—focus on handguns, and hence an annual entry workload of 1–2 million firearms per year, depending on whether imports are included.


In Box 1-3, we describe some basic assumptions about the nature of a national RBID, with particular regard to the wording used in past legislation and in the enabling language of the currently operational state RBIDs. It is useful to begin the assessment of the feasibility of a national RBID by revisiting those assumptions. Fundamentally, we assume that a national RBID would—at least initially—be tantamount to a scaled-up version of the current state RBIDs.

First, we assume that the “ballistic sample” required for entry in the database would consist of expended cartridge cases and not bullets. Though the enabling legislation in Maryland and New York was vague on this point, the only operationally feasible approach was to restrict attention to casings. It takes more operator time (and money) to enter bullet evidence into a system such as the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) than casings, and requiring recovery of a bullet specimen at the end of the manufacturing process would be unduly burdensome. That would require firing into a water tank or other nondestructive trap; as in test firings conducted by the police, firings into a tank must be done one at a time—and the bullet retrieved from the tank between each firing—in order to prevent damage to the specimens and to ensure that recovered bullets are identified as coming from the proper gun. Collecting cartridge casings also involves additional time—the protocol must allow for a casing to be attributed to the correct gun source—but the ejected casing is more amenable to rapid recovery than spent bullets that must be separately fished from a tank.

Second, we assume that the focus of a national RBID would be on handguns, as the major gun class used in crime. Expanding state RBIDs

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