New Mexico

Department of Public Safety

Keeping New Mexico Safer Through Safe Roads and Safer Communities

Firearms & Toolmark Unit

The New Mexico Department of Public Safety (DPS) Forensic Laboratory Bureau has an established Firearm/Tool Mark Unit located in the Santa Fe Forensic Laboratory and provides forensic firearm analysis for the entire state of New Mexico. In addition, the Firearm/Tool Mark Unit also provides forensic services in the sub-disciplines of tool mark comparison, serial number restoration, distance determination tests, and fracture match comparisons.

Processing

Forensic firearms analysis involves the microscopic comparison of bullets, cartridge cases, and/or other ammunition components in an attempt to make associations as having been fired by or cycled through a particular firearm. Similar techniques are used in the examination of suspect tool marks made by typical hand tools (screwdrivers, bolt cutters, etc.). Chemical application and other methods are used to attempt the restoration of serial numbers, usually on firearms. Lastly, the examination of a shooting victim’s clothing may reveal a range of distance that the shot was fired from. The firearm and ammunition in question is required for this analysis.

Forensic Databases IBIS / NIBIN

The Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS)/National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) is a national computerized database which stores digital images of cartridge cases recovered from crime scenes as well as cartridge cases that were test fired from recovered weapons. The digital images are compared with each other in an attempt to identify potential associations. Associations may allow examiners to link cases on a local, regional, or national level. Cartridge cases fired in revolvers are no longer entered into IBIS/NIBIN because these items are not routinely found at crime scenes.

Helpful Hints

  • Never submit a loaded firearm to the laboratory. If you have concerns that further handling the weapon may affect the analysis, please contact the laboratory for instructions.
  • Ensure to package any firearm separate from any live ammunition.

Firearms Unit Frequently Asked Questions:

Do you enter test samples from revolvers into the IBIS database?
No. The IBIS database attempts to associate crime scene evidence to other crime scenes and/or recovered firearms. Since revolvers do not automatically eject fired cartridge cases they are considered unsuitable for IBIS entry.
Do I need an acceptance code to submit firearm related evidence?
An acceptance code is required for DNA submissions. No acceptance code is required for submitting firearm evidence unless you want DNA testing on firearm evidence.
I have a large amount of shell casings and fired bullets from my crime scene. Can I submit all of the items I recovered?
Yes. We encourage you to submit all firearm related evidence that you recover to the lab. Also submit any items recovered during autopsy at OMI.
Do you test hand swabs for GSR?
No. The firearms unit does not have the capability to perform that type of test. If you require testing of hand swabs please call the unit and we can refer you to laboratories that provide that type of service.
What do I need to submit for you to perform a distance test?
In order to perform a muzzle to garment distance test we need you to submit the firearm that was used in the incident as well as the victim’s clothing. Also, any live ammunition that was recovered should be submitted as we may use that ammunition during testing. We do not test suspect clothing as part of this test.
How long will it be until I get my results for the evidence I submitted for firearms testing?
There is no specific turnaround time for cases that are submitted since we give priority to homicides, cases going to court, officer involved cases and sexual assaults. However, any time you need to, you can contact the laboratory and we will make every effort to accommodate you in trying to expedite your case.
Can you compare a fired bullet to a fired cartridge case?
We can compare fired cartridge cases to each other or to a gun and we can compare fired bullets to each other or to a gun but we cannot compare a fired bullet to a fired cartridge case.