Many robberies and homicides go unsolved because there is no way to trace a bullet found at the crime scene back to a specific gun and, ultimately, to the person who fired it. So Todd Lizotte, head of development at NanoVia, has devised a technology to do just that.
Lizotte, a handgun enthusiast, spent years working with lasers to shape machine parts. Then he realized that the same process could enable a gun to emboss bullet casings with a unique symbol. As a test, he laser-etched a half-millimeter-wide pattern into the tip of a gun's firing pin. When the gun is fired, the pin slams into the casing of a bullet, leaving a tiny stamp. Such a mark could indicate a gun's serial number, which is already recorded when someone buys it. Casings left behind at a crime scene would thus contain a signature of the gun from which they were shot.
Right now, ballistics experts can match casings with their guns only if the weapon has been recovered. A serial number, in contrast, would provide an instant ID. Lizotte is getting feedback from law enforcement personnel and from a committee at the United Nations, which is looking for ways to track arms from peacekeeping missions that find their way onto the black market. Gunmakers, however, are reluctant to embrace an idea that makes gun ownership less private. "No company wants to be the first," Lizotte says. "I plan to approach politicians about introducing tax breaks to manufacturers who implement it."