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Injury by Gunfire, Part 1: Gunshot Wounds (From Medicolegal Investigation of Death: Guidelines for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigation, Fourth Edition, P 607-705, 2006, Werner U. Spitz and Daniel J. Spitz, eds. -- See NCJ-214126)

NCJ Number
Werner U. Spitz
Date Published
99 pages
This chapter discusses how the range of fire and the direction of fire can be determined from an external examination of a gunshot wound.
When a firearm is discharged, smoke containing soot and gunpowder is ejected from the muzzle with the bullet. These deposits around a bullet wound in cases of close-range fire are referred to as smudging and tattooing or stippling. It is the diameter of spread and the density of these deposits that aid in estimating the distance from which the gun was fired. A thorough examination of the victim's clothes is required to determine the presence of gunpowder and soot around a bullet hole. The section of the chapter on the range of fire discusses the various factors that determine the features of a gunshot wound and how the features relate to the distance from which the gun was fired. An accurate assessment of the range of fire requires test firing a gun with the type of ammunition that was used to make the wound. A target of fresh pigskin provides results comparable to human skin. The direction of the gunfire can be determined from the relationship of entrance to exit wounds; however, deviation in the direction of the bullet between entrance and exit, such as might be caused by striking bone, must be considered. Other factors to consider in estimating the direction of the gunfire are also noted. The abrasion around an entrance bullet wound can also provide clues about the angle with which the bullet entered the body. Other issues discussed are the victim's physical activity following a fatal injury by gunfire, pain due to gunshot wounds, the characteristics of less common ammunition and their effects on gunshot wounds, and guidelines for conducting autopsies on gunshot victims. Extensive illustrative figures and 19 references