Virginia Department of Forensic Science
Firearms & Toolmarks
The Firearms and Toolmarks section examines firearms for operability and compares bullets, cartridge cases, and shotshell cases to determine if they were fired from or in a particular firearm. Other examinations conducted are the examination of toolmarks to determine if they were produced by a particular tool.
There is a Firearms and Toolmarks section in each of the four laboratories, with a total of twelve qualified examiners statewide. These are full service sections providing all examinations of firearms for operability and the comparison of bullets, cartridge cases, and shotshell cases to determine if they were fired from a particular firearm. Other examinations conducted are the examination of toolmarks to determine if they were produced by a particular tool, examination and processing of obliterated serial numbers on firearms in order to restore them, and analyze clothing and other objects for the presence of gunshot residue and gunshot residue patterns in order to determine the distance a firearm was at the time of discharge.
There are also specialty examinations, such as vehicle lamp examinations to determine if the lamp was “on” or “off” at the time of impact, fracture matching of pieces of objects to determine if they were at one time part of the same unit, examination of speedometers to determine the speed at the time of impact and fingernail ridge pattern comparison, performed in our laboratory section. Examiners in the section provide instruction to the law enforcement community covering the capabilities as well as proper laboratory methodology for collecting, marking, preservation and submission of evidence, The examiners also provide assistance and training to the medical examiners' office and the legal profession.
Computer technology is the latest addition aiding the firearms examiner. Installed in all four laboratories is the DRUGFIRE system. This is a database driven multimedia system designed to increase the effectiveness of forensic laboratories by maintaining open case files. Our system, which connects all four of our laboratories not only to each other, but also to the laboratories in Maryland and Washington D.C., maintains images of cartridge cases, shotshell cases, and bullets that are recovered from crime investigations. DRUGFIRE works by capturing a video image of markings left on bullets and cartridge cases. These images are stored in the database and used for analysis.