Suicides Due to Handguns

The location of the self-inflicted wound varies depending on the type of the weapon, the sex of the victim, and whether the victim is right- or left-handed. In individuals who shoot themselves with handguns, the most common sites for the entrance wound are the head (81%), the chest (17%), and the abdomen (2%), in that order (Table 14.1). There is some difference by sex (Table 14.1) in that a smaller percentage of women (72%) shoot themselves in the head than do men (83.5%).

Table 14.1 Sites of Suicidal Handgun Wounds

Site

Males

Females

Combined Total

Number

Percent

Number

Percent

Head

304

(83.5%)

72

(72%)

376 (81%)

Chest

58

(15.9%)

22

(22%)

80 (17%)

Abdomen

2

(0.6%)

6

(6%)

8 ( 2%)

Total

364

(100%)

100

(100%)

464 (100%)

When individuals shoot themselves, they do not necessarily hold the weapon the same way they would if they were firing the weapon at a target. Commonly, they will hold a handgun with the fingers wrapped around the back of the butt, using the thumb to depress the trigger, firing the weapon (Figure 14.2). In gunshot wounds under the chin, they may hold the weapon "correctly", but bend their forearm upwards and backwards such that the gun is upside down when they fire it (Figure 14.3).

Some individuals will steady a gun against the body, by grasping the barrel with the non-firing hand (Figure 14.2). In the case of contact wounds of the head, and less commonly the trunk, soot may be deposited on the thumb, index finger, and connecting web of skin of the steadying hand due to blowback of gases from the muzzle (Figure 14.4A). In the case of a revolver, soot may be deposited on the palm from cylinder gap (Figure 14.4B). The location of the soot on the palm is influenced by the barrel length and where the gun is held. With two-inch barrel weapons, the soot is in the midpalm; with four-inch barrels, toward the ulnar aspect of the palm. In rare instances, the blast of gases from the cylinder gap is so strong as to lacerate the skin of

Figure 14.2 Note deceased's left hand around barrel of gun and use of thumb to fire weapon.
Figure 14.3 Contact wound under chin from pistol held inverted at time of firing. Upside-down muzzle imprint. Front-sight at 6 o'clock.

the palm (Figure 14.5). In two cases seen by the author, the individual committing suicide wore a glove on the hand used to grasp the cylinder, apparently so as not to burn their hand. Even if there is no visible powder or soot deposition on the hand, analysis for primer residues is often positive.

Occasionally, an individual steadying the barrel with their non-firing hand, inadvertently places part of the hand over the muzzle. This has lead to individuals shooting themself through the hand. In one case, the muzzle was held tightly against the palm of the hand, which was against the forehead. On discharge, the emerging hot gases, soot and powder perforated the palm

Figure 14.4 (A) Soot deposited on radial aspect and edge of palm of hand; (B) soot deposited on ulnar aspect of palm of hand.
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