Firearms/Tool Mark Examination

The Discipline of Firearm and Tool Mark Examination

Firearms Identification

Firearm identification deals with the comparison analysis of projectiles and cartridge cases found at crime scenes to submitted suspect firearms. The basis of firearm identification is in the microscopic individual characteristics caused during the manufacturing process. Additional imperfections may arise from use, abuse, wear, and corrosion. These imperfections caused by manufacture or over time are what make the tool surfaces in firearms unique. Firearm examiners can also analyze for distance determinations, operability of firearms, and serial number restorations.


Firearm Image Database

Currently the firearms and tool mark identification community has a database operating system used to image fired cartridge components called the NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistics Information Network) database. The NIBIN program is funded and maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. There are 206 sites that are primarily operated by state and local crime laboratories. As of 2007, there have been over 23,000 “cold hits” as a result of all the evidence entered into the database. These “hits” link cases together that were otherwise not known to be related and helps detectives solve crimes.

Tool Mark Identification

Tool mark identification determines if a tool mark left at a crime scene was produced by a particular suspect tool. Tedious microscopic comparisons are conducted of striations on a tool (bolt cutter, screwdrivers, crowbars, etc) to evidence marked by that tool (pad locks or wires, pried open doors to homes or safes, etc) recovered from the suspect.

Standards and Best Practices:

AFTE Certification Program:

The Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners offers certification for qualified AFTE members. Qualified members may take any or all the follow examinations:

  1. Firearm Evidence Examination and Identification
  2. Toolmark Evidence Examination and Identification
  3. Gunshot Residue Evidence Examination and Identification

For more information regarding the AFTE certification program, qualifications needed, fees, and application, please visit the following link:

Daubert and Admissibility Resource Kit for Firearm and Tool Mark Examination:


Are there any requirements for obtaining employment in the firearm and tool mark discipline?

Many of the requirements necessary for employment are agency specific; however, the scientific working group for firearms and tool marks (SWGGUN) has established a recommendation for entry level examiner trainees:

Who can I contact to obtain information regarding this committee?

Contact the IAI 4th VP (Science and Practices Committee) or the Chair of the Firearm and Tool Mark Committee.