Suicides Due to Long Arms

In suicides with long arms (rifles and shotguns), just as with handguns, the preferred sites are the head, chest, and abdomen, in that order. There is, however, very little difference in the percentage of head wounds between the sexes (Table 14.2). Thus, 69% of the men and 65% of the women had entrance wounds of the head.3 The percentage of people shooting themselves in the head with rifles and shotguns is not as great as with handguns. This may be due to the fearsome reputation of these weapons. People do not mind shooting themselves in the head but do not want to "blow their head off."

Table 14.2 Sites of Suicidal Long Arm Wounds3




Combined Total










209 (69%)






87 (28%)






9 (3%)






305 (100%)

a Based on data from Stone, 1992.

a Based on data from Stone, 1992.

In deaths involving centerfire rifles, most wounds of the head are in the mouth or temple. A study of 46 suicidal centerfire rifle wounds of the head revealed the location of the entrance, in decreasing frequency, was the mouth (41.3%), the temple (26.1%), underside of the chin (15.2%), the forehead (13%), and other (4.4%).2 A study of 89 contact shotgun wounds of the head by Harruff found a similar distribution with the most common site of entrance the mouth (62%), followed by the temple (15%), and the submental region (13%).4 While the vast majority of individuals who shot themselves in the temple with a centerfire rifle shoot themselves in the right temple compared to the left (11 to 1), in the case of shotguns, the difference as to which temple is selected is significantly less (7 to 4).2 For both rifles and shotguns, most right handed individuals who shot themselves in the right temple use the left hand to steady the barrel.

Some individuals construct devices to shoot themselves at a distance or in unusual areas of the body. These devices may be as simple as clamping a gun to a chair and running a string through a pulley to the trigger, to elaborate devices employing electric motors and timers. An example of the former was a high-school student who shot himself in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun by wedging the gun partly under a mattress and inserting a baton in the trigger guard. While lying on his stomach, he used his feet to push the baton against the trigger, thus firing the gun.

In deaths due to long arms, just as in those with handguns, one should examine the hands for the presence of soot as well as test for primer residues. If soot is present, it will be on the hand used to steady the muzzle against the body and is due to blowback from the muzzle. The area involved is the thumb, index finger, and connecting web of skin. The presence of visible soot on the hands is relatively uncommon, in comparison to handguns. Very rarely, there may be tattooing due to blowback of powder from the muzzle (Figure 14.9). In two instances seen by the author, in holding the muzzle against the body, the web of skin between the index finger and thumb was inadvertently interposed between the muzzle and the target. This resulted in a tangential wound of the edge of the palm and searing of the skin. Even if there is no visible evidence of soot or powder, gunshot residue tests should be performed.

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