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Book Reviews: May 2001

By Charles Q. Cutshaw

Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques, 2nd Edition
By Vincent J.M. Di Maio, MD
2000 NW Corporate Blvd
Boca Raton, Florida 33431
Reviewed by Charles Q. Cutshaw

There is much misinformation regarding terminal or wound ballistics, the effects of firearm launched projectiles in human bodies. Most of this misinformation is the product of individuals whose experience is limited to “street” shootings from the law enforcement standpoint. In fact, several books have been written on this subject, most of them inaccurate representations of the subject upon which they are reporting. This is because the authors are usually serving or former policemen who see the wounded and dead on the streets, but do not treat them in emergency rooms or perform autopsies in the morgue. This leads not only to misunderstanding, but also to errors both of commission and omission by the authors of works on the subject of wound ballistics. This misinformation is also frequently seen in the popular gun press, where essentially unqualified writers make conclusions regarding the “stopping power” of one cartridge or another. This erroneous information has also led to a fundamental misunderstanding of the effects of bullets and how they interact in living bodies. Many writers use “energy dump” as a measure of effectiveness, especially in describing pistol caliber effects. This is also a misconception, as the impact of one’s clinched fist against another human can carry more energy than any pistol caliber bullet. Others use “temporary wound cavity,” another gross misconception regarding pistol caliber bullets, whose temporary wound cavity is too small to be of any lethality whatsoever, unless the bullet passes directly through an organ such as the spleen or liver.

The author of the subject of this review is the Chief Medical Examiner of Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio. Dr. DiMaio has seen the results of gunshot wounds, along with the weapons used to inflict them in both the emergency room and the morgue on an all too regular basis for over 20 years. He is thus one of the handful of true American authorities on wound ballistics and is eminently well qualified to write on the subject. In this landmark book, Dr. DiMaio puts the lie to the fallacies mentioned above, while at the same time characterizing every aspect of the effects of gunshot wounds. This is especially of interest to the student of firearms and wound ballistics because Dr. DiMaio describes in detail the effects of gunshot wounds of every type, inflicted by every type of firearm, from contact range to wounds inflicted from a distance. These effects are well illustrated with photographs of actual wounds of all types. A warning to the squeamish is in order — the photos of the wound effects are detailed and clear. If one has an aversion to graphic depiction of wounds, this book should be avoided. For the serious student of wound effects, however, the detail is necessary and instructive. Words are inadequate to describe the comprehensive detail of this outstanding study. Dr. DiMaio not only explores every detail of gunshot wounds to virtually every portion of the human body; he goes into great detail discussing the relative lethality of the firearms themselves. In addition, Dr. DiMaio accurately describes the salient characteristics of every type of firearm, including handguns, rifles and shotguns. Unlike many so-called authorities, Dr. DiMaio reveals his clear understanding of small arms themselves by his accurate definitions and descriptions of firearm types. For example, he differentiates between true “assault rifles,” which of course are select fire, and their semiautomatic cousins, which merely look like assault rifles, but are not. Dr. DiMaio even describes flint and percussion type firearms because these antique firearm systems still occasionally are used to kill or wound.

Dr. DiMaio next enters into an essay on forensic aspects of ballistics, discussing the salient properties of a variety of rifles and handguns, their ammunition and forensic examination of projectiles of all types, even balls fired from percussion firearms. The author discusses techniques of shell case identification, bullet comparison, DNA typing, ballistic phenomena such as “skidding,” not to mention fascinating details such as why obtaining fingerprints from firearms used in the commission of a crime, especially from handguns that have been fired, is rare and the fact that certain types bullets are corroded by a decomposing body and thus cannot be ballistically matched.

The bulk of the book is made up of forensic wound ballistics, including chapters on classification of gunshot wounds in general, handgun wounds, wounds from .22 rimfire weapons, centerfire rifle wounds, shotgun wounds, and wounds from miscellaneous weapons and ammunition. Even air guns are covered. Suicides are treated as a different category and there is a full chapter describing how gunshot wounds by suicide are identified and characterized. There are also chapters on detecting gunshot residues, and a chapter titled “Bloody Bodies and Bloody Scenes.” The latter chapter is essentially a “catchall” for material inappropriate for other chapters and describes in detail the effects of gunshot wounds not covered elsewhere, plus other miscellaneous, but important subjects. This chapter includes topics such as velocities needed to perforate skin, behavior of ammunition in fires, multiple wounds through a single entry, falling bullets, blunt force injuries with firearms and many other subjects not appropriate to other more specialized chapters.

This book is not only fascinating, but also essential for the serious student of firearms and ammunition. It is absolutely unique; the information contained in Gunshot Wounds can be found nowhere else. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive and authoritative work on the subject of wound ballistics and forensics since Lagarde’s Gunshot Injuries and actually surpasses that work in many aspects. Quality does not come without cost, however. This book costs nearly $100! If there is any question as to the worth of a volume such as this, however, the fact that the information is unavailable elsewhere, plus the authoritative nature of the book are the determining factors that make Gunshot Wounds a bargain. It belongs in the library of every serious student of firearms and ammunition.

The Armalite AR-10: The Modern Combat Rifle
By Armalite Division of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp.
Available from
Collector Grade Publications
P.O. Box 1046
Cobourg, Ontario K9A 4W5
$40.00 postpaid
Time: 14:30
Reviewed by H. Kim

Armalite’s original promotional film for the AR-10 is a fascinating piece of history on two levels. First, it features torture test and firepower demonstrations, including the ultra rare belt feed, all performed by the famed designer himself, Mr. Eugene Stoner. Second, the absurd claims of zero maintenance reliability made for the M-16 in Viet Nam can be directly traced back to this film. Besides being the M-16’s immediate predecessor, the AR-10 is by itself a remarkable achievement for putting the full power 7.62 mm NATO cartridge in rapid firing and a very light 7.5lb package. This film will be of interest to any serious owner of the AR-10 or AR-15.

The film opens with a lone infantryman, portrayed by none other than Gene Stoner, assaulting a beach with full auto blasts from an AR-10, as the narrator heralds it “as the most important achievement in small arms development in the past 80 years.”

Disassembly procedure is shown by a bowtied Mr. Stoner with the prototype “Hollywood model” AR-10. This will be comfortably familiar to any user of the AR-15, who will readily notice the differences as well, such as the keyless bolt carrier, FAL type trigger mechanism, and the distinctive “lawnmower muffler” muzzle brake with its two concentric perforated tubes.

This is followed by extensive footage of the “Sudanese” model AR-10 being torture tested and fired under simulated combat conditions. Long full auto bursts are fired without even a hiccup after freezing, buried in sand, and totally immersed in mud, demonstrating its apparent total immunity to failure. A complete magazine being emptied into the chest of an FBI silluette target shows its excellent controllability in full auto. Rifle grenades are fired in rapid succession, which can also be done with the AR-15 but is seldom performed. Perhaps the most exciting footage of the video shows the rare belt feed in action, with an entire 50 round belt fired continuously from the bipod, again with excellent control.

The disastrous reliability of the M-16 in Viet Nam may have been the result of hyperbolic and absurd advertising claims of this film, which were later repeated verbatim in Colt’s first manual for the AR-15. Without a single cleaning rod or solvent bottle in sight, the weapon is shown being cleaned simply by wiping with a cloth, as “the hard plating of the working parts prevents fouling elements from adhering.” As the narrator states “The simplicity of field cleaning also makes it possible to easily and quickly train a recruit in a minimum amount of time.” One cannot help but think the U.S. Military bit a very big hook on that one!

This video offers the unique perspective of showcasing this rare and history- making weapon in action, which neatly complements the fine books on the Armalite series. As such it is highly recommended for any serious fan of the AR-10 or M-16 series.


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