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Abstract

Analysis of ballistics evidence (spent cartridge casings and bullets) has been a staple of forensic criminal investigation for almost a century. Computer-assisted databases of images of ballistics evidence have been used since the mid-1980s to help search for potential matches between pieces of evidence. In this article, we draw on the 2008 National Research Council Report Ballistic Imaging to assess the state of ballistic imaging technology. In particular, we discuss the feasibility of creating a national reference ballistic imaging database (RBID) from test-fires of all newly manufactured or imported firearms. A national RBID might aid in using crime scene ballistic evidence to generate investigative leads to a crime gun’s point of sale. We conclude that a national RBID is not feasible at this time, primarily because existing imaging methodologies have insufficient discriminatory power. We also examine the emerging technology of micro- stamping for forensic identification purposes: etching a known identifier on firearm or ammunition parts so that they can be directly read and recovered from crime scene evidence. Microstamping could provide a stronger basis for identification based on ballistic evidence than the status quo, but substantial further research is needed to thoroughly assess its practical viability.

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