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Handgun Wounds: A Review of Range and Location as Pertaining to Manner of Death

Molina, D. Kimberley MD*; DiMaio, Vincent J. M. MD*; Cave, Rowena BSc(Hons)

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: December 2013 - Volume 34 - Issue 4 - p 342–347
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000048
Original Articles

Citizens of the United States own more firearms than those in any other country, and the majority of the firearms owned are handguns. Given such prevalence, surprisingly few studies have been published describing the characteristics of deaths due to handguns. To address this gap, nonaccidental handgun deaths examined at the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office between 2000 and 2010 were reviewed. A total of 1450 cases were identified, including 797 suicides and 653 homicides. Age, range of fire, location of wound, and manner of death were analyzed. The average age of suicide victims (46.7 years) was found to be greater than that of homicides (34.3 years). Suicidal wounds tended to be contact wounds to the head; abdominal, extremity, back, and multiple wound locations were more common in homicides as were distant and intermediate wounds. Handgun wounds to the forehead, side of head, submental, and intraoral locations were significantly more common in suicide, whereas those to the face, apex of the head, and back of the head were more common in homicides. Where possible, likelihood ratios were calculated to determine relative likelihood of suicide or homicide for specific wound locations and ranges. While each death should be analyzed based on its unique circumstances and not solely its statistical probability, these data may help inform the pathologist’s conclusions.

From the *Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, San Antonio, TX; and †Factuality Research and Analysis, New Zealand.

Manuscript received March 15, 2013; accepted July 2, 2013.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: D. Kimberley Molina, MD, Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, 7337 Louis Pasteur Dr, San Antonio, TX 78229. E-mail:

© 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.