NIBIN: How police use ballistics to tell if your gun has criminal link

2023-04-17 05:09:31 By : Ms. Grace Chow

The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network — known as NIBIN — is a federal database that catalogs shell casings found at crime scenes and guns confiscated by police departments across the country.

While the database has existed for more than 20 years, the philosophy behind how it is used by law enforcement officials has evolved, police say.  Microscopi

NIBIN: How police use ballistics to tell if your gun has criminal link

Kentucky police departments were making less than 1,000 NIBIN submissions annually a few years ago, but now the rates are approaching 10,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency that maintains NIBIN.

"We used to use it as a forensic tool, and now we want to use it as an investigative tool," said Shawn Morrow, special agent in charge of the Louisville field division. 

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He cited a case in Western Kentucky in which a man was pulled over by cops and found with drugs, which allowed police to secure a search warrant of his home. There, they found a gun that was identified through NIBIN as having been used in three unsolved shootings in another state, which police didn't previously realize were connected.  

When someone pulls the trigger, there are three markings that will be left on the casing — and their uniqueness is like a fingerprint.

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The NIBIN computer takes two- and three-dimensional images of shell casings and looks for matches in those markings, which are then reviewed by trained firearms examiners.

The markings are compared to entries in the national system, which includes nearly 300 sites where police can send their ballistic evidence. Thus, a marking could be matched with a shooting in another state. 

But a match is only confirmed when examiners compare casings using a comparison microscope — an important distinction when thinking about admissible evidence in court cases. 

Since its inception, 4.5 million pieces of ballistic evidence have been stored in NIBIN, according to the ATF website. 

NIBIN: How police use ballistics to tell if your gun has criminal link

Binocular Compound Microscope Jonathan Bullington contributed to this report. Contact reporter Krista Johnson at