Skip to main content

Wounding potential of 4.4-mm (.173) caliber steel ball projectiles

Abstract

From time to time, severe or fatal injuries caused by small caliber air rifle projectiles are seen. In forensic sciences, the theoretical wounding potential of these weapons and projectiles is widely known. Usually, shots against the skull were reported and, in these cases, penetrating the eyes or thin bone layers of the temporal region. Amongst a huge number of different projectiles available for air guns, sub-caliber 4.4-mm (.173) caliber steel ball projectiles were used in an unusual suicide case. This case led to fundamental questions concerning wound ballistics. An 82-year-old man shot once against his right temporal region and twice into his mouth with a 4.5-mm (.177) caliber air rifle. Because of the exceptionally deep penetration of the base of the skull and the use of spherical-shaped sub-caliber air rifle projectiles, terminal ballistic features were analyzed and compared to results published in forensic literature. Test shots using the same weapon and similar projectiles were fired into ballistic gelatin to measure and calculate basic wound ballistic variables of cal. 4.4-mm (.173) steel balls. In comparison, further test shots with cal. 4.5-mm (.177) steel balls BB (ball bearing), flat-headed and pointed air rifle pellets (“diabolos”) were carried out. The theoretical penetration depth in solid bone was calculated with 36.4 mm, and test shots in gelatin from hard contact produced an on-average wound track of 120 mm underlining the potential wounding effect. Furthermore, spherical projectiles could roll back and forth within the barrel, and an air cushion between projectile and breechblock can reduce muzzle velocity by more than half, explaining the retained missile in the temporal region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  1. Dittmann W (1986) Gehirnschussverletzungen durch Luftdruckwaffen. Z Rechtsmed 96:119–131

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Fackler ML, Malinowski JA (1988) Ordnance gelatin for ballistic studies. Am J Forensic Med Path 9:218–219

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Fackler ML (1992) Police handgun ammunition selection. Wound Ballistics Rev 1:32–37

    Google Scholar 

  4. Fischer H, Heinemann A (2016) Working Group for Forensic Imaging of the German Society of Legal Medicine. Fundamentals of postmortem computer tomography (PMCT) in Forensic Radiology—recommendations and applications. Rechtsmedizin 26:284–290. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00194-016-0096-z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Frank M, Schönekeß H, Herbst J, Staats HG, Ekkernkamp A, Nguyen TT, Bockholdt B (2014) Subcaliber discarding sabot air gun projectiles. Int J Legal Med 128:303–308

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Goroncy C (1924) Handlungsfähigkeit Kopfschussverletzter. Dtsch Z Gerichtl Med 4:145–164

    Google Scholar 

  7. Grundfest H (1945). Penetration of steel spheres into bone. Nat. Research Counc, Missiles Cas. Rep. No. 10

  8. Heide S, Lessig R, Richter C, John E (2013) Überlebte Schussverletzungen. Rechtsmedizin 22:396–398

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Karger B (1995a) Penetrating gunshots to the head and lack of immediate incapacitation. I. Wound ballistics and mechanisms of incapacitation. Int J Legal Med 108:53–61

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Karger B (1995b) Penetrating gunshots to the head and lack of immediate incapacitation. II. Review of case reports. Int J Legal Med 108:117–126

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Karger B (1996) Differentiation of hunting accident and suicide with rifles. Versicherungsmedizin 48(1):11–15

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Karger B, Brinkmann B (1997) Multiple gunshot suicides: potential of physical activity and medico-legal aspects. Int J Legal Med 110:188–192

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Karger B, Billeb E, Koops E, Brinkmann B (2002) Autopsy features relevant for discrimination between suicidal and homicidal gunshot injuries. Int J Legal Med 116:273–278

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Kamphausen T, Althaus L, Küpper U, Rothschild MA, Bajanowski T (2014) Tödliche Schussverletzung eines Motorradrockers. Weiteres potenzielles Opfer im Rockerkrieg? Rechtsmedizin 24:502–507

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Kamphausen T, Peschel O, Rothschild MA, Janßen K, Banaschak S (2017) Rechtsmedizinische Untersuchungen bei Amokfällen. Rechtsmedizin 27:167–174. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00194-017-0158-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Kettner M, Ramsthaler F, Grabherr S et al (2017) Forensische Bildgebung im deutschsprachigen Raum – eine Bestandsaufnahme. Rechtsmedizin 27:407–413. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00194-017-0157-y

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kneubuehl BP (2013). Geschosse Gesamtauflage – Ballistik, Messtechnik, Wirksamkeit, Treffsicherheit. Stocker-Schmid, Dietikon-Zürich

  18. Kneubuehl BP, Coupland R, Rothschild MA, Thali M (2008) Wundballistik – Grundlagen und Anwendungen, 3. Auflage edn. Springer Verlag, Heidelberg

    Book  Google Scholar 

  19. Missliwetz J (1983) Phänomenologie von Selbsttötungen mit mehrfachen Schussverletzungen. Arch Kriminol 171:143–150

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Monticelli F, Seidl S, Betz P (2002) Air rifle injury with an entrance through the nose: a case report and review of the literature. Int J Legal Med 116:292–294

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Newgard K (1992) The physiological effects of handgun bullets. Wound Ballistics Rev 1:12–17

    Google Scholar 

  22. Rothschild MA, Schneider V (2000) Gunshot wound to the head with full recovery. In J Legal Med 113:349–351

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Schyma C, Brünig J, Madea B, Jackowski C (2016) Die Endoskopie des Waffenlaufs. Rechtsmedizin 26:224–229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00194-016-0086-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Schyma C, Brünig J, Jackowski C, Müller R (2017) Messung der Geschossgeschwindigkeit mittels Hochgeschwindigkeitskamera. Rechtsmedizin 27:273–277. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00194-017-0180-z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Sellier K, Knüpling H (1969) Über die Eindringtiefe von Geschossen in Knochen. Arch Kriminol 144:155–160

    Google Scholar 

  26. Sellier K (1982) Schusswaffen und Schusswirkung I. Ballistik-Medizin-Kriminalistik. Schmidt-Römhild, Lübeck

    Google Scholar 

  27. Sellier K (1988) Schussentfernungsbestimmung. Schmidt-Römhild, Lübeck

    Google Scholar 

  28. Walcher K (1929) Über Bewusstlosigkeit und Handlungsfähigkeit. Dtsch Z Gerichtl Med 13:313–322

    Google Scholar 

  29. Waffengesetz Deutschland [German weapons law] (2002) Waffengesetz vom 11. Oktober 2002 (BGBl. I S. 3970, 4592, 2003 I S. 1957), das durch Artikel 1 des Gesetzes vom 30. Juni 2017 (BGBl. I S. 2133) geändert worden ist. www.gesetze-im-internet.de/waffg_2002/BJNR397010002.html, visited: 15.11.2017

  30. Werner R, Schultz B, Bockholdt B, Ekkernkamp A, Frank M (2017) Energy-dependent expansion of .177 caliber hollow-point air gun projectiles. Int J Legal Med 131:685–690

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Wolff F, Lauffer M (1965) Tödliche Kopfschussverletzung durch Luftgewehr. Arch Kriminol 136:78–83

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Lesley-Anne Weiling from Write English GbR for the language editing.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas Kamphausen.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

For this type of study, formal consent is not required. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kamphausen, T., Janßen, K., Banaschak, S. et al. Wounding potential of 4.4-mm (.173) caliber steel ball projectiles. Int J Legal Med 133, 143–150 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00414-018-1816-6

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00414-018-1816-6

Keywords

  • Air gun pellet
  • Ballistics
  • Reconstruction
  • Gunshot wound
  • Penetration depth
  • Incapacitation
  • Physical activity