Firearms and Toolmarks: What Is Forensic Ballistics? 

Forensic investigation is fascinating and often focuses on minutiae in unexpected ways. Evidence is everywhere if you know where to look and how to interpret what you find. In crime scenes involving firearms, forensic ballistic professionals are invaluable. 

A deep understanding of what happens when a shot is fired can help tremendously determine fact from fiction. Forensic bullet identification reports made by professionals are incredibly reliable.  

For example, the results of a test involving 173 volunteer professionals showed a false-positive error rate of less than 1%

How do ballistics experts interpret what they see, and how do they use this information? If you’re curious, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out more! 

Bullet Identification 

The task of a forensic ballistic specialist is to explain and demonstrate many of the intricacies of the unique identity of a firearm. Firearms have been a staple of daily life for hundreds of years, and their action is very well understood and predictable. So much so that a wealth of information is available if you learn how each gun barrel can leave a unique mark like a fingerprint. 

One of the most valuable aspects of forensic ballistics is linking shots fired to a particular firearm. This means analyzing the individual characteristics of each projectile and determining its origin. Due to their design, many projectiles can only use specific weapons. 

In the simplest of terms, the observation of a 38 special casing left tells a precise story. Due to the specific caliber, grain, and material, among other things, professionals can narrow down the bullet’s origin significantly. They may even link shots fired to a specific gun. 

Accurately identifying a casing helps to learn which bullets will only work with certain guns. Ballistic specialists can determine whether what is being said is actual or possible. 

Firearms and Toolmark 

Toolmark identification is a subsect of forensic science. The idea is that particular tools leave marks behind them specific to their use. For example, wire cutters leave a recognizable pattern or shear as they cut through metal. The mark left behind is something akin to a fingerprint. 

Detailed analysis of evidence happens through exhaustive testing off-site. They know what to look for if a unique mark appears while examining a bullet. Testing is then undertaken on a specific firearm to determine whether it can link 9mm ammunition to a 9mm weapon. 

It might seem unlikely that any information so subtle could appear in a retrieved bullet. Despite traveling thousands of feet per second, bullets are sometimes miraculously whole. Even a partially shattered 45ACP or a deformed 357 mag can offer significant information under the scrutiny of a trained eye. 

Examining Bullet Trajectory 

Understanding bullet trajectory is especially helpful in visualizing a crime scene better. Since bullets fired always travel predictably, it’s possible to determine their point of origin by analyzing their impact. 

Depending on the angle of entry, the bullet’s trajectory is easily determined. This happens by inserting a rod into the hole and measuring its angle perpendicular to the material the bullet entered. This is key for reconstructing a case and to better understand the trigger point and orientation of the gun barrel. 

First, the vertical angle is measured with an inclinometer. Then, the azimuth angle, which shows the left-to-right and right-to-left angles flush with the impact surface. A plumb bob is then hung between the initial and azimuth angles to show the final shot angle on a zero-edge protractor. 

Gun Identification 

Identifying which gun was used is one of the most critical factors. This is done in several ways, all of which are used to confirm whether or not a particular firearm is likely to have been the one to shoot a specific bullet when using a combination of facts in the matching of gun and ammunition and how they might be linked together. 

Each gun fires a particular caliber. A gun’s caliber describes the internal diameter of the barrel’s bore. The rounds a gun fires will always match this as they’re not designed to fire anything larger or smaller than this diameter. 

Every gun has a serial number that tells the date and location of its manufacture. This number will also be on file, linking it to the owner if the purchase was made legally. These serial numbers are often removed to obscure as much information as possible. 

Forensic specialists can sometimes restore these numbers by using sanding and etching agents. Even serial numbers entirely removed by grinding or filing can sometimes be restored this way and are easily legible after ten to fifteen applications of the etching solution. 

Forensic Ballistics in Short 

The world of forensic investigation is a complicated one. The strategies forensic professionals employ are many and varied, and we’ve only touched on a few of them in this article. The rabbit hole of forensics involving bullet identification and firearms, in general, is as deep as any. 

Are you fascinated with the world of Forensic Ballistics? It’s an ever-emerging career option. By 2028, the career is expected to grow 14% and produce 2,400 job opportunities across the U.S. 

Are you interested in shooting some rounds and trying your hand at a little amateur forensic ballistics yourself? If so, we’ve got plenty of ammo in various caliber options: 9MM LUGER, 45 ACP, 357 MAGNUM, 38 SPECIAL, 380 ACP, & 5.56MM NATO AMMO in our online store, to name a few! 

Remember to stock up on your ammunition and order from Target Sports USA. We provide the best customer service and ammo at affordable prices and in bulk quantities. Our exclusive membership program Ammo+, offers even more perks and savings for members.  

Our dedication to pro-gun safety means we want to ensure you have the right equipment and knowledge to handle a gun. So, ask our team questions here if you need help with your order.