There are numerous detailed books on firearms available for enthusiasts, the vast majority of the books concentrating on the physical aspects of firearms. Very little has been published on the chemical aspects of firearms and ammunition and what has been published is sparse and fragmented in the literature. One of the reasons for this is that manufacturers are reluctant to release in-depth details about their products for obvious commercial reasons.
The first part of the book is an attempt to amalgamate such chemical information as is available in the literature into one publication and also to summarize the history of firearms and ammunition that is of particular relevance to the development of modern firearms and ammunition (Chapter 2 through Chapter 15).
The remainder of the book details chemical aspects of forensic firearms casework with particular emphasis on the detection of gunshot residues (GSR)/firearm discharge residues (FDR)/cartridge discharge residues (CDR) on a suspect's skin and clothing surfaces. The development of an analytical method to routinely examine samples from terrorist suspects for both firearms and explosives residues is described.
Northern Ireland was subjected to a terrorist campaign for nearly 26 years (commonly referred to locally as "the troubles"). The violence is now ended, much to the relief of the overwhelming majority of residents, and the community is thriving. During the troubles the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory (NIFSL) experienced a large firearms caseload and this text is geared toward recording statistics gathered during this period and scientific methods developed to meet the demands of law enforcement and courts of law. The contents will be of interest to any forensic laboratory engaged in such work, particularly to forensic chemists, with little or no knowledge of firearms, who may be required to undertake chemical examinations related to firearms casework.
Sources include gun books, textbooks, gun magazines, scientific papers, technical reports, manufacturer's literature, newspaper articles, private communications, personal observations, and research conducted by myself.
The NIFSL has a turbulent history. It has been subjected to an armed raid by terrorists which resulted in a substantial number of firearms being stolen; an unsuccessful bombing attempt; a disastrous fire, the water and smoke damage from which destroyed the overwhelming majority of instrumentation;
and finally a large terrorist bomb which destroyed the laboratory and resulted in it being rebuilt in a different, more secure location. The forensic science staff members are civil servants and are totally independent of the police and army, but because of the nature of the work they were viewed as part of the so-called British war machine, and consequently the laboratory was targeted by some of the terrorist organizations. It may be of interest to some readers to briefly outline the main difference between firearms examination in a terrorist and a non-terrorist situation.
To explain the work of a laboratory dealing with a terrorist situation it is helpful to give a brief explanation of the background to the terrorist situation in Northern Ireland. The U.K. consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom but it is also part of the island of Ireland (Figure 0.1). The remainder of Ireland is a republic and is
The British Isles
an independent sovereign nation with no political ties to any other country. Although it is the wish of the government of the republic to unite the whole of Ireland by political and peaceful means there are people, mostly Catholics, both north and south of Ireland, who wish to expel the British from Ireland by the use of the bomb and the bullet.
On the other hand there are people in Northern Ireland, mostly Protestants, who wish to maintain the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and who will use the bomb and bullet to further their own ends.
It must be stressed that among all these nationalists and unionists it is only a very small number who are involved in terrorism.
The end result of the civil unrest was numerous shootings and bombings both of members of the security forces and of people who are suspected of being associated with one side or the other. Much property was destroyed by bombings, and armed robberies to finance the various causes were common. All this resulted in a substantial financial burden on the state for a long period of time.
It is essential for any laboratory dealing with civil unrest to take the firm view that the law of the land is the only yardstick by which all criminal activity is measured and that assassinations, punishment shootings, shootings by the army and police, shootings of the army and police, and so forth are all shooting incidents and all demanded full and impartial investigation.
In 1969, brooding civil unrest unleashed the gunman, and the use of firearms in violent crime escalated and at the peak of the trouble the laboratory was dealing with approximately 2,800 firearms cases per year. Apart from the volume of casework the majority of cases were of a serious nature and many of the examinations were complex.
The equipment and methods employed by the firearms section do not differ from those used by other forensic laboratories. The section undertakes all forensic aspects of firearms examination both chemical and physical.
The section also provided a 24-hour, 7-day/week call out service to the security forces. Forensic staff members are available to attend scenes of crime which are large, controversial, or too difficult for the police or civilian scenes of crime officers to deal with. There were aspects of scenes of crime examination that most other laboratories do not experience: the possibility of booby traps or sniper attack; the scenes were often in hostile areas, so that the time to examine a scene was sometimes very limited (before a riot erupted or a sniper got organized); and many scenes extended over a large area, involved a large number of people and exhibits, and were of a controversial nature.
Police have been fired at while examining scenes and in one incident two policemen were killed by a booby-trapped shotgun when one attempted to check if the firearm was loaded. In another incident a policeman was killed while going from room to room in a house, one of the rooms having been booby trapped with an explosive device. At one stage, booby-trapped cars were common and were frequently involved in scenes of crime. On another occasion a booby-trapped rifle was received at the laboratory but fortunately the explosive device was discovered before the weapon was test fired. It became necessary to X-ray all relevant firearms and associated items before examination.
A particular firearm could be active over many years in terrorist hands and may or may not be recovered. A link report is a report that connects two or more shooting incidents by comparison macroscopy of spent cartridge cases and/or fired bullets, and we were frequently required to provide such reports for court purposes. This often involved a large amount of work. In one particular case 605 spent cartridge cases and 46 spent bullets had to be examined, and in addition to the 27 original reports a further 19 link reports were required for court purposes.
Link reports of this size would rarely be undertaken by other laboratories and are a direct consequence of terrorist activity. An interesting observation from doing link reports of this nature is that, for firearms used over a number of years, we could nearly always match spent cartridge cases whereas we were frequently unable to match all of the bullets. Terrorist weapons are generally neglected and fouling inside the barrel, storage under poor conditions, and so forth leads to rusting and wear inside the barrel which can substantially alter the striation markings on the bullet.
A further sinister aspect of the terrorist campaign was the use of heavy weaponry such as rocket launchers, mortars, and heavy machine guns. Items of this nature have been used to attack security force bases, police stations, and police vehicles. On more than one occasion army helicopters have been struck by large caliber machine gun fire.
Firearms and associated items, ammunition, spent bullets, and spent cartridge cases recovered from arms finds, scenes of crime, and so forth provide useful information of an intelligence nature.
The majority of the firearms recovered were rifles, revolvers, pistols, shotguns, and machine guns but items of a more unusual nature have been recovered including anti-tank rifles, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, flare pistols, air weapons, antiques, starting pistols, toy guns, riot guns, gas guns, humane killers, harpoon guns, industrial nail guns, line throwing guns, replicas, try guns, cross bows, zip guns, range finding binoculars, telescopic sights, tools, reloading and cleaning equipment, spare parts for a wide range of firearms, silencers, holsters, ammunition belts.
A wide range of items of a ballistics nature have been retained over the years and a large amount of information is stored on computer. This statistical database was a valuable aid to police investigating officers, and a similar intelligence framework operated for explosives and explosive devices.
Immediately after a shooting incident it is essential that the type of gun used and the history (if any) of the gun is established quickly. This may show which terrorist group last used the gun and the area in which the gun was last used, thereby giving the police an indication of where to look for the culprits and who were the likely suspects. Also in the case of motiveless shootings, if a link could be established with other shootings, then the organization involved may be identified. If a gun had a history and suspects were apprehended, then the history of the gun opened up a further line of questioning.
Another aspect of intelligence work was the possibility of tracing firearms or associated items back to the original supplier in another country and through examination of company records, receipts, and so forth trace the route of the gun to Ireland. This could lead to information about the purchaser and those involved in gun running and very occasionally resulted in prosecution of those involved. Such prosecutions have taken place in the United States and Australia.
Propaganda is a weapon that has been used very effectively by the terrorist. The database on firearms was frequently used by the police, army, politicians, and other official bodies to counter terrorist propaganda. Apart from armed robberies, terrorists financed their causes by donations from sympathizers both in Ireland and in other countries, and this is one example where facts are essential in order to inform supporters about the deeds and nature of the persons and organizations that they are financially encouraging.
To summarize, the main differences between firearms examination in a terrorist situation and a non-terrorist situation are that in a terrorist situation more cases tend to be of a serious nature, casework involves a wider variety of firearms and related items, more and larger link reports are required, there are different conditions and more difficulties with scene examination, and there is an intelligence gathering aspect to the work.
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