Ballistics is the applied science concerned with the motion of projectiles – especially those projectiles that are used in ranged weaponry. In this course, we are especially concerned with the applications of this science towards the law. Specifically, as the title of the course suggests, we will be focusing on Forensic Ballistics in this course.
The word “ballistics” originated from the Greek word “ballein” or “ballo.” It means “to throw“. If you watch movies set in the Ancient Roman era, you might be familiar with this weapon of war:
This is called a ballista and the name is another origin word for ballistics. This weapon usually comes in the form of a gigantic bow or catapult and is used to hurl large objects, particularly stones, at animals or enemy forces.
While the term “ballistics” generally refers to the study of the trajectory of projectiles, the science itself was developed to facilitate the examination of firearms, ammunition, and related objects.
The phrase forensic ballistics was first coined by Col. Calvin Goddard, named the Father of Modern Ballistics. He was a forensic scientist, army officer and academic researcher who was a pioneer in the field.
Forensic Ballistics deals with the use of firearms science as applied to the law. Therefore, it is necessary for anyone interested in becoming a law enforcer to understand the science.
Challenges Faced by Forensic Ballistics
Forensic ballistics, like most other sciences, face issues and problems in its execution. Some of them are the following:
- Limited Evidence In most cases involving firearms, only spent bullets, cartridge cases, or gunshot residue may be available as evidence, making it difficult to determine the exact firearm used or the shooter’s identity.
- Lack of Standardization Standardized testing procedures and databases can sometimes not be available, thus hindering the comparison of ballistic evidence across different jurisdictions.
- Evolving Technology Advances in firearms and ammunitions technology can make it challenging for forensic experts to keep up with new firearm models and their unique characteristics.
- Human Error Human bias and subjective judgement can influence forensic ballistics analysis, potentially leading to incorrect conclusions.
- Limited Resources Many forensic laboratories have limited resources, which can lead to delays in processing ballistic evidence and backlogs in cases.
- Lack of Training and Expertise Not all forensic laboratories have access to experienced and well-trained firearms examiners, which can impact the quality of analyses.
- Chain of Custody Issues Proper handling and preservation of ballistic evidence are crucial, and any break in the chain of custody can compromise its integrity.
- Ethical Concerns The potential for misuse of forensic ballistics analysis, such as wrongful convictions, raises ethical questions about its application.