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Firearms Examiner Training


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AFTE glossary
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

AFTE Glossary was published by the organization. Subsequent editions with comprehensive updates were published in 1982 and 1994.


The AFTE Training Committee published a training manual to be used as a guide for training firearm and toolmark examiners. This was designed to standardize training among examiners while meeting the needs of individuals and their agencies. Now in digital form, this manual has undergone several updates and revisions.


Photo of Sacco and Vanzetti
Sacco & Vanzetti
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Another reexamination of the Sacco-Vanzetti firearms evidence occurred at the request of Westinghouse Broadcast and Cable, Inc. The report validated the original firearms identification examinations (1920) as well as Calvin Goddards findings (1927).




Photo of a man at a firing range
Firearms training
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

The FBIs Forensic Science Research and Training Center (FSRTC), at Quantico, Virginia, announced the creation of a training course for firearm examiners. The course, titled Specialized Techniques in Firearms Identification, covered a variety of subject matter and is designed to enhance the proficiency of examiners.


DRUGFIRE, an electronic database and computer network, was introduced by the FBI Laboratory. It was originally designed to digitally image cartridge cases for case linkage within and between participating laboratories



BulletProof, a computer system designed to aid in bullet identification, was developed by Forensic Technology, Inc. (FTI) and was later adopted for use by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)


Photo of a set of scales with a judge's gavel
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

The Daubert ruling, issued by the United States Supreme Court, expanded the Frye test (general acceptance) and established a new legal standard for scientific testimony in Federal Courts. Daubert required trial judges to be the gatekeepers for expert evidence and testimony.

Daubert set forth criteria (not all-inclusive) upon which scientific testimony must be evaluated before it can be admitted:

  • Reproducibility of scientific principal
  • Known or potential error rate
  • Existence and maintenance of operating standards
  • Peer review and publication
  • General acceptance in a particular scientific community

As a result of the Supreme Courts ruling, some states adopted the Daubert standard; some states adhered to the Frye test; and other states determined their own criteria for admissibility of scientific evidence.


A study titled Benchmark Evaluation Studies of the Bulletproof and Drugfire Ballistic Imaging Systems was released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Washington, D.C. The study consisted of a technical evaluation by a variety of individuals, including members of AFTE; it included recommendations for various actions as outlined by the contractor performing the study for ONDCP.



Photo of a IBIS laboratory with multiple computer screens
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Brasscatcher was developed by Forensic Technology, Inc., to assist with the identification of cartridge cases. FTI combined BulletProof and BrassCatcher and renamed the merged software/hardware elements Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS).


The National Institute of Standards (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was directed to provide technical assistance to assist with "ballistic imaging interoperability" between the DRUGFIRE and IBIS technologies.


The ATF and the FBI agreed to make DRUGFIRE and IBIS systems compatible. As a result, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network Program (NIBIN) was established.


The Scientific Working Group for Firearms and Toolmarks (SWGGUN) was established. The purpose of SWGGUN was to develop a series of consensus guidelines for the firearm and toolmark discipline and to disseminate SWGGUN guidelines, studies, and other findings that may be of benefit to the forensic community.


After evaluating the feasibility of merging DRUGFIRE and IBIS under the NIBIN initiative, the ATF and the FBI agreed to a unified firearm identification system: IBIS supported by the FBIs secure, high-speed network. Both agencies also agreed to joint implementation and maintenance of the NIBIN program.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) announced the formation of the ATF National Firearm Examiner Academy (NFEA) for the purpose of providing training for apprentice/entry level firearm and toolmark examiners from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The NFEA Academy was developed with input from AFTE.



The ATF assumed full responsibility for the NIBIN program, including network authority and responsibilities formerly administered by the FBI.

In United States ODriscoll , the appeal motion to preclude expert ballistics testimony was denied. The court ruled that expert testimony in the field of ballistics was relevant and to exclude such evidence would compromise the truth-seeking objective of the trial.


Photo of a set of scales with a judge's gavel
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

In United States Foster , a motion to exclude the testimony of a ballistics expert was denied. The court allowed a ballistics expert to testify on comparisons of spent bullet casings finding that testimony met the Daubert criteria for reliability and relevancy. The court also found that differences in standards employed by other firearms experts providing additional trial testimony were not sufficient to render testimony unreliable.


circular illustration with NFSTC letters in the center
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

AFTE and National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) partner to develop a media based firearm and toolmark examiner training program.

Forensic Technology Incorporated (FTI) announced the development of a three dimensional bullet imaging system, IBIS-TRAX 3D, which uses confocal microscopy to simulate a 3-D image of fired bullets and cartridge cases.



illustration of the state of Ohio with a judge's gavel
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

In State v. Johnson , the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the testimony of the firearms expert who concluded that a live round and spent casings were, at one time, chambered in the suspect firearm. Admission of testimony was allowed because the firearm examiners conclusions were scientifically valid and based on reliable, commonly accepted scientific principles.


Photo of a set of scales with a judge's gavel
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

In United States Edgar Diaz, et al. , a California court ruled that firearms and toolmark methods, identification criteria and controls are reliable. However, the court ruled that firearms identifications cannot be stated with absolute certainty, limiting the scope to conclusions based on a reasonable degree of scientific certainty in the ballistics field.



Selected Bibliography

The Selected Bibliography is a list of the writings that have been used in the assemblage of the training program and is not a complete record of all the works and sources consulted. It is a compilation of the substance and range of readings and extensive experience of the subject matter experts.

  1. Berg, S. 1965. The history of firearms identification. Identification News 15 (6): 5-15.
  2. Berg, S. 1979. The drama of forensic ballistics. AFTE J 11 (3): 44.
  3. Biasotti, A. A. 1959. A statistical study of the individual characteristics of fired bullets. J Forensic Sci 4 (1): 34-50.
  4. Biasotti, A. A. 1964. The principles of evidence evaluation as applied to firearms and tool mark identification. J Forensic Sci 9 (4): 428-433.
  5. Biasotti, A. A. 1981. Bullet bearing surface composition and rifling (bore) conditions as variables in the reproduction of individual characteristics on fired bullets. AFTE J 13 (2): 94.
  6. Ramsland, K. (n.d.) The pressure is on. Ballistics: The Science of Guns . Court TV Crime Library website; retrieved December 18, 2007. http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/forensics/ ballistics/1.html
  7. Daubert on the Web. The Frye opinion. Web page retrieved December 18, 2007.
  8. Davis, J.E. 1958. Introduction to Tool Marks, Firearms and the Striagr . Springfield: Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd.
  9. Forensic Technology, Inc. All products. Web page retrieved December 18, 2007.
  10. Hatcher, J.S. 1947. Hatchers Notebook . Harrisburg: Military Service Publishing Co.
  11. National Clearing House for Science Technology and the Law. 2004. United States v. Foster. Web page retrieved December 18, 2007.
  12. National Clearing House for Science Technology and the Law. 2003. United States v. ODriscoll. Web page retrieved December 18, 2007.
  13. Presidents DNA Initiative. Principles of Forensic DNA for Officers of the Court . Web page retrieved December 18, 2007.
  14. Smith, B.C. Summer 1975. The last illness and death of General Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson. VMI Alumni Rev .
  15. State v. Johnson , 2006-Ohio-209.
  16. Tulleners, F.A. 2001. Technical Evaluation: Feasibility of a Ballistics Imaging Database for All New Handgun Sales . Sacramento: California Department of Justice.
  17. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. 2005. NIBIN program history. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Integrated Ballistic Information Network . Audit report 05-30. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/ATF/a0530/app2.htm
  18. Warniment, D. 2003. Brownsville investigation A historical cartridge case comparison. AFTE J 34 (4): 375.

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