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Are .22s Untraceable?

To hear one of Jeff Johnston's favorite (non-fiction) TV shows tell it, .22-caliber bullets can't yield forensic data. The BullShooters couldn't help but take a closer look.

I was watching Investigation Discovery’s non-fiction crime show series, Nightmare Next Door, when my BullShoot-O-Meter wanged red. During one of the homicide detective’s interviews, Detective Sgt. Ben Benson of the Pierce Co. (WA) Sheriff’s Department said the following about crime scene evidence:

The Suspect Statement
“Twenty-two caliber bullets are such that they don’t give you [the forensic investigator] ballistics off of them.”

I realize that this television show was likely heavily edited, and there is a good chance that Detective Benson’s words were taken out of context, or his full explanation was omitted or edited for brevity. Nonetheless, his statement as quoted was taken directly from the show, and it struck me as unbelievable.

Really? All .22-caliber bullets (.22 LR, .223 Rem., .220 Swift, etc.) cannot be used to gather forensic data such as ballistic fingerprinting for tracing back to the firearm that fired them? Huh? After all, most .22 caliber bullets, both centerfire and rimfire, are made of copper-plated lead, or, in some cases lead only. Therefore, assuming they held together, it’s logical they’d reveal the striations from the barrels’ rifling just like any other caliber.

However, a real detective I am not—more like just some hack who likes to play one on the Internet. But I don’t want some criminal to see the show then think he can use a .22-caliber in a crime to get away with it.

The Question
Are .22-caliber bullets incapable of leaving ballistical forensic data?

The Expert Deferral
“We certainly can identify .22-caliber bullets,” said Jay Mason, Supervisor of the Firearms and Toolmark Unit of the Northern Virginia Forensic Laboratory.

That puts this one to rest.

The Conclusion
Criminals beware: Just because you watched a silly television show does not mean you can use a .22 to get away with murder.

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12 Responses to Are .22s Untraceable?

will wrote:
December 30, 2014

The only type of guns that dont leave rifling marks are shot guns. That is because the bullets are made of BBs and they spread once they exit the barrel

Macc wrote:
March 24, 2014

I can heartbrokenly tell you for a fact they are my brother was murdered with one 29 years ago and the ballistics sealed the conviction

shootbrownelk wrote:
March 15, 2014

Perhaps the new 'Fragmented' .22 rimfire bullets may fall into the untraceable category. They supposedly break into pieces. Not sure if they could jigsaw puzzle them back together.

Elkhunter wrote:
March 14, 2014

If criminals do get their info from TV, I suggest a show advising them to use a .22 short in a 2 shot derringer. Old and slow as I am that should give me time to draw my 1911.

Rich wrote:
March 14, 2014

pushes the envelope on the idea that some 'learned behaviors come right off the TV screen'…….

Allan C wrote:
March 14, 2014

Yes I have looked at slugs and have noticed the marks of the striations and they seem to be good enough to get a trace back.

Look a squirrel wrote:
March 14, 2014

Just like CSI Miami had a 10/22 that was 223 caliber. Really dumb shows that don't hirer real experts to be experts in the field of guns, military, or vehicles

Charles wrote:
March 14, 2014

I have not heard that one saying 22 caliber bullets are incapable of leaving ballistic data but have on several occasions heard on various TV shows that 22 rimfire bullets very frequently deform or disintegrate and so no reliable ballistic data can be gotten from them.

Roadapple wrote:
March 14, 2014

Well, I guess it's back to the shotgun!

March 14, 2014


Mike wrote:
March 13, 2014

That's all nice and dandy that they can a 22 caliber bullet... What they don't tell you is that doing so is seldom of any use... Just like being able to identify car tread patterns is of little use (as far as a crime fighting tool is concern). Why? 1) Because the barrel wears out. 2) Because a smart thug can defeat the system with a simple file in less than 10 secondes... If we want to save lives (and reduce criminality), we'd be better off investing in programs that helps vulnerable individuals... Just saying.

Brenboy wrote:
March 13, 2014

Smooth barrel would work... sounds like Mafia myth