Firearms Analysis

Topics: Robert F. Kennedy, Rifling, Firearm Pages: 8 (3107 words) Published: November 15, 2010
Firearms and Toolmark Identification

Firearms analysis is a “discipline mainly concerned with determining whether a bullet or cartridge was fired by a particular weapon”. (Saferstein) Its beginnings can be traced back over one thousand years ago to around 1040 A.D. In China, Tseng Kung-Liang published the first recipes for three types of gun powder, which were made through a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrite. (Hellemans and Bunch, 75) These basic elements are important because modern powder is simply a refined version of the primitive substance and is standardized enough that gunpowder residue can be analyzed by methods which identify specific components. (Klatt) There is no official date and place of origin for the invention of the gun, however it is known that the continual catalyst for the development of firearms is and has always been military usage. The important needs, militarily speaking, for a firearm included the following: reliability of firing, accuracy of projectile, force of projectile, and speed of firing. (Klatt) The refinement of these various elements throughout time has proved to be very beneficial for forensic firearms examiners because of the increased degree of accuracy to which they can identify a firearm with its ammunition. Arguably, since the invention of firearms there have been firearms related examinations that can be linked to the modern day science. However, the earliest noted incidence of actual firearms identification occurred in 1835 in the City of London, England. A homeowner was shot and killed and the servant was suspected of the crime. A man named Henry Goddard, a Bow Street Runner (an early police force within the City of London), investigated the case. Goddard was able to identify the mold mark — the mold is used to manufacture lead balls from molten lead — on the fired projectile ball. He also examined the paper patch — the paper patch provides a seal between the ball and gunpowder in blackpowder firearms — and was able to identify it as having been torn from a newspaper that was found in the room of the servant. Goddard’s careful observations and subsequent examination of the physical evidence from the crime scene were instrumental in bringing the guilty party to justice. (Doyle) Over the years, advances in technology have not only enhanced gun quality, but they have also aided in the development of tools used in firearms analysis. In 1887 Dr. J. H. Girdner devised an electrical bullet detector called the induction balance, which he used for the first time to find a bullet lodged in the brain of a gunshot survivor. Then in 1898 Paul Jeserich, forensic chemist became the first to conduct a microscopic examination and comparison of striations from two bullets fired from the same weapon. (Cavendish, 138) Modern firearms can be divided into two main categories: handguns and shoulder firearms (Fisher, 343). These models have developed a long way from their ancient predecessors, and are now manufactured in many different shapes and sizes depending on its purpose. Handguns are the most compact and are designed that way to be concealable and easy to carry. These characteristics rightfully are why these weapons are deemed dangerous and are regulated by the law in most states. The two most common defensive handguns are the double action revolver and the semiautomatic pistol. (Klatt, M.D.) The revolver seems to be deemed as the “perfect beginner’s gun”. This can be attributed to the low price point, the simpler design, more accurate shot (as compared to the semiautomatic) as well as its ease of use. The barrel length is variable depending on the gun’s function; it is smaller for concealability and longer for accuracy or energy. The cylinder contains either fix or six shots can be loaded by pivoting the barrel downward or by swinging out the cylinder. (Klatt, M.D.) Due to the proliferation of firearms in this country as well as an unfortunately vast, demanding market for...
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