History of Forensic Ballistics

Many serious crimes resulting in fatal death or grievous injury are often committed by using firearms. In the past, homicidal shooting was not so widespread, in India, as found in some of the western countries, presumably because of the severe control by law on the possession of firearms by individuals. The instance of suicides and accidents involving firearms, however, were reported occasionally. But off late, indiscriminate use of sophisticated firearms, clandestinely smuggled through the international borders of our country by terrorists and other unlawful elements are reported, which is a major concern for the law and order machinery.

The evidence related to firearms offenses usually centers around fired bullets and shells, which are examined for determining the type or mark of guns from which they were fired, or for determining whether or not they were formed from a particular weapon. It may also be necessary to study bullet holes, powder, or shot patterns on clothing, on the body, or on other objects for determining the direction and range of firing a gun. The time elapsed since the time of firing may also sometimes be required to be ascertained.

In the starting era, the gunsmiths manufacturing the guns, barrels, and bullet molds by their hands, and is exclusive of each firearm was unavoidable. This meant that always some exclusive impressions which were unique to a specific firearm when the bullet was fired. Thus began the first models of the careful examination of a bullet to trace it back to the gun used to fire it. Now, this foundation is known as forensic fingerprinting that is used for forensic examination of firearms and other evidence such as bullets, cartridges, etc. recovered from the crime scene and creates the link between the suspects or the specific weapons used in a crime.

Forensic Ballistics

The science of ballistics has been developed to facilitate the examination of firearms, ammunition, and other related matter. But the term ballistics is generally used to refer to the study of the trajectory of bullets or missiles rather than of the missiles and the missile launches themselves. More appropriately the phrase forensic ballistics which was first coined by Colonel Goddard, a pioneer in this study, means the systematic study of the firearms and ammunition used in the execution of the crime for investigation and identification. It is, therefore, necessary for all police officers assigned with the investigation of firearms cases that help to understand the characteristics of firearms and ammunition and also their evidentiary values in the crimes.

Ballistics is defined as the science of the motion of projectiles and firearms. Forensic ballistics deals with the examination of firearms, ammunition involved in a crime to help the investigating officer. All types of firearms [standard and country-made guns], ammunition, bullets, cartridge cases, GSR, detection of shot holes, distance estimation, etc. are examined in forensic ballistics. Wound ballistics is also a part of it.

History of Ballistics

The first documented case of success in forensic ballistics occurred in 1835. Henry Goddard, a member of the bow street runner in London matched a recovered bullet from a murdered victim to a specific mold in a suspect’s home. This confirmed that the suspect made the bullet.

►In 9th-century black powder was developed in China.

►In 10th-century the Chinese used hand canon guns made of bamboo [Roman candle type].

►In 3rd-century canon was modified into a metal barrel.

►In 1380 handguns are known across Europe.

►In 1400 matchlock guns appears.

►In 1493-1508 Emperor Maximilian of Germany invented the rifling of guns in order to impart the rotatory motion to the projectile during the firing.

►In 1498 rifling principle is discovered by August Kotter.

►In 1509 wheel lock was invented.

►Gaspard Kollner of Vienna, and Augustus Kotter of Nuremberg improved the aim and created the rifles by adding grooves to the inside of a musket barrel in about 1520.

►In 1540 rifling appeared in firearms.

►In 1630 flintlock guns appeared.

►In 1637 first use of firearms proof marks.

►In 1750 pistol guns came into fashion.

►In 1817, John Hall of the United States created two advances. The first was the breech-loader, and the second was using assembly lines for manufacturing.

►The biggest benefit of assembly lines was the fact that interchangeable parts were developed, standardizing the industry.

►Then cartridge was developed, which is a new advancement in this field in 19th century. This contained the primer, powder, and ball all in one package.

►Samuel Colt (1814–62), a gunmaker from Connecticut, was granted a U.S. patent in 1836 for a revolver mechanism that allowed numerous shots to be fired without reloading.

►With the assistance of Colonel Goddard in the early 1920s, Phillip O. Gravelle created the comparative microscope for use in firearm investigations.

►Percussion caps were invented in 1822.

►Back action locks first introduced in 1830.

►The first practical revolving-cylinder pistol made was the Colt Paterson. patented in 1836 after being invented in 1831 by Samuel Colt.

►Pinfire cartridges are first used in firearms around 1840.

►The first rimfire cartridge was invented in 1845 by a Frenchman named Louis-Nicolas Flobert.

►Shotguns were widely used in 1850.

►William Armstrong designed the breech loading cannon in 1854.

►In 1860, the case of Regina v Richardson use another example of the early application of firearm identification. In this case, the major evidence was newspaper wadding. In the early era, when cartridges came into existence, such wadding was used to create a seal between the bullet and the gunpowder. This wadding was placed in the two-barreled muzzle-loading pistol recovered from the murder site that matched the wadding found in the victim’s wound. This was the same wadding that is discovered at the suspect’s home, and it was made up of the same material (London Times newspaper) as the waddings recovered before. This clue helped to prove that he was the shooter and led to his conviction.

►Breech-loaded firearms were widely used in 1861.

►Richard Gatling, MD, creates the Gatling cannon in 1862. The weapon has six barrels and can fire 200 rounds per minute.

►The centre fire cartridge was first introduced in 1861.

►The first efficient double-action revolver was created in 1877.

►A completely automatic gun was created in 1880.

►Automatic handguns first appeared in 1892. The first automatic gun was created by Joseph Laumann.

►In 1925, Calvin Goddard used the comparison microscope to examine the bullets in a murder case.

Currently, guns have unique identifications based on manufacturer.

For example, Colts create a left twist groove pattern when all other works on the use of the right twist groove. Most guns have four to eight grooves, and six being the most common number.

It can be examined in different ways. Most commonly is the GSR that is gunshot residues. The Gun Shot Residue or GSR is found on the suspect’s clothes and hands. These are the unburned residue particles from the primer and powder combustion.

GSR mostly contains antimony, barium, and lead in major quantities. Other contents are aluminum, sulfur, tin, calcium, potassium, silicon, and chlorine in minor quantities. The examiner also examined the Cartridge casings.

The casings are typically made up of brass, which is 70% copper and 30% zinc. The casing may be nickel-coated. Brass is nice and chosen by the manufacturer because it retains the best latent prints, especially when cleaning solvents or gun oil has been used.

Caliber, which is the diameter of the inside of the barrel (bore) or the diameter of the bullet and is used for the identification of the guns. European guns are labeled with millimeters.

Different types of bullets are used for different purposes such as the military uses solid-nosed bullets to cut cleanly through bone and tissue. Hunters use soft-nosed bullets, which open up or blossom when the bone is hit. The hollow points bullets, which also balloon out at impact are also used by the hunters.

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