Accidental firearm fatalities
Out of a total of 624 consecutive gunshot autopsies from Münster and Hamburg, Germany, 32 cases (5.1%) were accidental. The accidents were self-inflicted in 3 cases while another person fired the gun in the remaining 29 cases. More than half of the victims were younger than 25 years and 75% were male. A single gunshot injury was present in all cases and the head was struck in 47% but a detailed analysis of the entrance wound sites did not show any preferential anatomical sites. A surprising finding was the presence of five contact or near contact gunshots (16%). The reasons for these and most other accidents were extreme carelessness when handling a firearm, the involvement of children or adolescents or a foolish behaviour with a gun intended to impress others. Gun-cleaning accidents occurred rarely and there were no major technical defects of the weapons. Preventive measures should concentrate on strict inaccessibility of guns to children and on increased educational efforts to subgroups at risk such as hunters and members of the armed forces. A single non-contact gunshot injury from a long-barrelled firearm can be considered typical for an accident but the great variety and the possible presence of "disguised" suicides and homicides requires a careful forensic investigation including inspection of the scene and reconstruction of the events. It is recommended that a case should always be considered to be non-accidental in the beginning of an investigation.
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