Presence and Position of Firearm

Finding a firearm, particularly in proximity to the deceased, is supportive of suicide (59). In one Texas study, a firearm was found in the hand of a suicide victim, i.e., one finger in the trigger guard or at least one hand loosely gripping the barrel or grip, in 24% of all cases (94). If a handgun was used, it was found in the victim's hands in 25.7% of the cases. Of those using a long gun (shotgun, rifle), 19.5% had the firearm in their hand, usually the left. Another study showed 20% of victims with a handgun in their hand compared with 11% with long guns (95). A German study revealed that one-third of suicide victims had a firearm in their hands (21). A gun can be positioned in a victim's hand to conceal a homicide (94).

The Texas study showed the gun on, touching, or within 30 cm (12 in.) of the body in 69% of cases, and more than 30 cm (12 in.) from the body in 7% (4 of 34 the cases involved long guns [94]). There was no correlation found between factors such as gender, location of the entry wound and caliber of the gun, and finding the weapon in the hands of the victim. In multishot suicides, the firearm tends to be in the hands of or near the victim (55,56,96). In rare cases when two firearms are used simultaneously, half the victims have been observed to have firearms in their hands (97).

The victim usually uses the dominant hand to inflict a wound on the same side of the body (i.e., right-handed individual shoots self in right temple), but the opposite (e.g., left temple entry) does occur (16,63,98). In one series, 8% of right-handed individuals shot themselves in the left temple (98). The nondominant hand is also used (99). A weapon can rest on the side of the body opposite to the dominant hand (100).

Other methods of depressing the trigger are used. A toe, a long object, or a string/cord can depress the trigger of a long gun (Fig. 1; ref. 37). A shooting apparatus can be rigged by the victim (46,60). A weapon can be braced or steadied against a firm surface (Fig. 2; refs. 46 and 60).

"Missing" firearms complicate a police investigation of a suicide (16). Firearms are most commonly moved by family and friends, but emergency response personnel and police may also be responsible (94,101). The reasons for moving a firearm by those

Fig. 1. Self-inflicted firearm wounds. Depression of triggers of long guns by: (A) string attached to toe and (B) assist device.

who knew the deceased include a concern about the stigma of suicide, social and religious considerations, anxiety about the adverse effect of a determination of suicide on an insurance claim, and revenge (e.g., simulation of homicide). Similar motives can compel the victim (37,102). Victims have used devices to remove weapons from the scene (e.g., pistol pulled by weight into river after victim shot himself; use of a rubber band [102-104]). The firearm injury may not be immediately fatal or incapacitating, allowing the victim to leave or hide the firearm in another location (22,46,105). The firearm can be stolen by individuals at the scene (94,102). A firearm may be destroyed after the investigation is apparently complete (106).

Firearm alteration or tampering suggests assisted suicide or homicide (107,108).

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