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Challenging Firearms and Toolmark Identification -- Part Two
By Adina Schwartz
Firearms and Toolmark Identifications Cannot Be Made to a Reasonable Degree of Scientific Certainty
A report by the National Research Council Committee to Assess the
Feasibility, Accuracy, and Technical Capability of a National Ballistics
Database (the NRC Report) explicitly recognized that firm statistical
foundations do not exist for firearms and toolmark examination.
“Conclusions drawn in firearms identification should not be made to
imply the presence of a firm statistical basis when none has been
demonstrated.”1 According to the committee, the tendency of examiners
“to cast their assessments in bold absolutes, commonly asserting that a
match can be made ‘to the exclusion of all other firearms in the world’ …
cloak[s] an inherently subjective assessment of a match with an extreme
probability statement that has no firm grounding and unrealistically
implies an error rate of zero.”2
Although its criticism of “extreme probability statements” is welcome,
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