CBS wants us to believe Sherlock Holmes is an idiot. Only an idiot would nod along as Watson claims a bullet found at a crime scene was “traced back to a private trader at a gun show in Virginia.” That’s simply not plausible.
While police could conclude bullets and/or casings recovered at two separate crime scenes were fired by the same gun, they can not magically identify the firearm without having a test round fired from it. In fact, one of the major gripes anti-gun groups have with ballistic identification systems is that they “only contain ballistic fingerprints from bullets, cartridges cases, and guns recovered from crime scenes.” In other words, ballistic identification “cannot lead investigators directly to a specific firearm that produced a ballistic fingerprint unless that weapon is eventually recovered.”
We know that the pistol hasn’t been recovered because the killer still has it in her possession at this point in the episode. As such, there would not be any record in the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) for the bullets and casings recovered at the crime scenes to match. NIBIN “only contains images of ballistic fingerprints from past crime scenes.” The killer’s pistol could only be in the database if it had already been recovered at a crime scene.
But what if the Elementary universe bends the rules and assumes every firearm is “fingerprinted” before it’s sold? New York tried that. The system was a complete and total failure as noted by the legislature when they repealed the mandatory ballistic identification law in 2012:
It is the conclusion of two studies by the California Department of Justice conducted two years ago and a 2004 study conducted by the Maryland State Police that the ballistic database systems in these states are a waste of time, money and manpower. The Maryland report cited the complete failure of the New York Combined Ballistic Identification System (CoBIS) to produce a single “hit” on a gun crime as complete failure of that system. The CoBIS system is costing taxpayers approximately $4 million per year and it is a certainty that the State Police could find a better use for those millions.
Even if the firearm could be identified, it still couldn’t be “traced back to a private trader at a gun show in Virginia.” That’s not how the gun trace system works.
When a law enforcement agency needs to trace a firearm, they start by contacting ATF and providing them with all the information they have on the firearm. ATF then contacts the manufacturer, who is required to keep a record of sales. The manufacturer will tell the ATF which distributor bought the firearm. The ATF will then contact that distributor and the process repeats itself until they find the first non-FFL purchaser of the firearm. The entire process takes “about five days for a routine trace.”
There is no way that the gun trace process would be able to tell ATF agents that a gun had been re-sold at a gun show by a private seller. Instead, ATF would have provided New York’s 11th precinct with the identity of the first non-FFL purchaser. Only after police tracked this individual down would they have discovered he had sold the pistol at a gun show.
Deductive genius Sherlock Holmes missing these fatal flaws is as believable as CBS’s magical ballistics report. Instead of sarcastically quipping about the Second Amendment, he should be laughing at Watson, but that wouldn’t fit CBS’s anti-gun agenda.