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A Byte Out of History - FBI Firearms Collection

A Byte Out of History
The Bureau Gets its Guns: The Origin of the FBI Firearms Collection

Agent in the FBI firearms arsenal


If you’ve ever taken the FBI tour, you know that we have some interesting crime-fighting reference collections.

Such as: Tire designs and paint color samples from nearly every car ever made in the U.S. Extensive stationery, typefaces, and watermarks. And handwriting specimens from known forgers. All valuable tools for analyzing evidence and pinpointing criminals.

Perhaps most well-known of all is our collection of over 5,000 firearms. Just about every gun of the modern age...including the eccentric and the historic, from the handgun John Dillinger reached for just moments before his death...to a unique hollowed-out walking cane that fires small but lethal bullets.

This month, we celebrate the 71st anniversary of that collection, officially begun on October 1, 1933.

Why’d the early Bureau start such an arsenal? As part and parcel of its growing scientific approach to fighting crime and protecting national security.

Here’s the story: In November 1932, the Bureau launched its first “Technical Crime Laboratory“—the precursor of today’s FBI Lab. Its mission? To analyze evidence and investigate crime scenes using the latest scientific techniques...and to pioneer new crime-fighting tools grounded in modern science.

Lab agents and scientists soon realized that rigorous scientific analysis required reference points and standards so evidence could be accurately compared and analyzed. So they began collecting the most common items used to commit crimes.

Gathering firearms was a logical step, especially at a time when the Bureau’s war on gangsters was in full swing.

The collection had an immediate operational value: agents and scientists used it to identify weapons (even when they were deliberately damaged by criminals), to link these guns to crime scenes and criminals, and to match weapons to bullets fired. They even used this firearms storehouse as a source of spare parts for testing weapons.

And it’s stood the test of time. For the past seven decades, our reference firearms collection has been a valuable weapon itself—in protecting the nation. It’s solved countless crimes. And it’s helped make forensic science a building block of law enforcement investigations around the world.