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Gunshot Wounds: Bullet Caliber Is Increasing

Caruso, Robert P. MD; Jara, Delma I. MD; Swan, Kenneth G. MD

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: March 1999 - Volume 46 - Issue 3 - p 462-465

Background The incidence of gunshot wounds has increased over the past two decades. In the past several years at our Level I trauma center in Newark NJ, we perceived that the size of ammunition involved in these wounds has been increasing as well. We sought to document this trend by using autopsy data as well as bullets received by surgical pathology.

Methods Measurements of bullets stored in surgical pathology were taken from alternate years between 1981 and 1993, then every year through 1997. A total of 745 bullets were studied in this 16-year period. Bullets deformed beyond measurability and shotgun pellets were excluded from the study ([similar]20%). Linear regression of mean bullet caliber over time was performed, and analysis of variance was used to assess statistical significance of apparent differences. In addition, autopsy reports from the regional medical examiner's office were surveyed for description of bullet size. Bullet caliber, in these reports, is described as "small," "medium," or "large." A total of 397 reports were studied from 1981 to 1997. Once again, shotgun wounds (<5%) were excluded. The percentage of large-caliber projectiles was plotted against time, and [chi squared] for trend was used to determine statistical significance.

Results Results are tabulated as mean +/- standard error bullet caliber (millimeters) over time. Linear regression reveals r = 0.944, p < 0.0001. Data obtained from autopsy reports are not tabulated here, but chi squared for trend reveals a statistically significant increase in the proportion of large caliber and decrease in proportion of small-caliber bullets (p < 0.001).

Conclusion These data unveil an ominous trend toward the use of larger-caliber firearms in accidents, homicides, and suicides.

From the Department of Surgery (R.P.C., K.G.S.), University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey and Department of Surgery (D.J.), University of Texas at Lubbock, Texas.

Presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Surgical Congress, February, 1997, Nashville, Tennessee.

Presented at the American Federation of Medical Research meeting, October, 1996, Boston, Massachusetts.

Address for reprints: Dr. Kenneth G. Swan, Department of Surgery, MSB-G590, 185 South Orange Avenue, Newark, NJ 07103.

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.