Improvised Firearms or Homemade firearms or country-made firearms are those firearms which are created illegally by the local blacksmiths or manufacturers using available materials such as iron pipes, vehicle steering pipes, etc. The characteristics of an improvised firearm such as the size and shape of a barrel, calibre of firearm, etc. depend upon the availability of instruments.
The mechanism of an Improvised firearm varies from every firearm which is most effective only at short range due to ineffective manufacturing of firearm. Improvised firearms remain effective at short range due to incomplete combustion of propellants which varies from shot-to-shot. The wounding effect of these improvised firearms is nearly unpredictable.
Country-made firearms in India
Ever since the world was introduced with ammunition and firearms, the world has experienced bloodshed of humans. From small arms to nuclear weapons, all have been used in the past century. Even though nuclear weapons create havoc and destruction all around its epicentre, small arms have been a cause of worry as they have been used by the citizens themselves to kill.
If we look at the statistics it can be proved that small arms have proven to be much more deadly as most of the killings have been done by them rather than nuclear weapons. India is one of those countries which have strict guidelines for holding guns by citizens. The law was regulated under the Indian Arms Act, 1959.
But India ranks second in the world with most citizens holding guns out of which around 20% hold licensed guns while others use country-made firearms also known as ‘Desi Katta‘ and most of these firearms are used in three states viz. Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Country-made firearms in India are usually seized from criminals, robbers, terrorists, poachers, etc. who are involved in different criminal activities. As every citizen in India is unable to possess a licensed firearm due to its cost around 63,000 and more. For criminals, country-made firearms come as a relief which is used without a license.
A country-made firearm uses a smoothbore barrel and the projectile ejected doesn’t contain characteristic rifling marks which makes it difficult for the experts to trace it back to the origin. Country-made firearms are also non-standard firearms which are made up of waste materials or scrapped materials which makes it easy to dispose to avoid detection.
Therefore, filing and capturing a criminal based on a country-made firearm is difficult to trace and is done on the basis of impartial evidence present, eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence.
Country-made firearms are non-dependent as they are not manufactured properly. The bullet/projectile may not be able to eject and beak off from the breech end of the barrel. It is dangerous for criminals as well. The ammunition used in country-made firearms are usually self-made or factory-made, which are collected illegally.
Common features of Country-made firearms
Country-made firearms (desi Katta) are made in small sweatshops and blacksmith shops which have specific knowledge about the making and design of the firearm by itself. Some of the common features include:-
- Firearms are breech-loading
- They have same bore number and 12 bore cartridges are accommodated for use.
- Their mechanism is based mainly on spring and trigger.
- All the firearms have a smooth bore and devoid of rifling marks inside the barrel.
- They have a single barrel.
- These kinds of firearms don’t use magazines.
Firearm experts have studied the country-made firearms which were established in different criminal cases. Those firearms included a pistol, revolver, pipe gun, shotgun, etc.
According to the firearm experts, some of the firearms were single action and some of them are auto-loading handguns. In single-action firearms, the hammer is manually cocked so that when the trigger is pulled the hammer strikes the cartridge for the projectile to be ejected. Once the bullet is ejected, the hammer needs to be again cocked manually using a thumb and is actually used as a safety measure in such firearms.
In other auto-loading firearms, those firearms had a short trigger pull to operate and lighter in handling also benefiting in not cocking the projectile again and again manually. There are, however, many different firearms which have different design and action mechanism.
A three-pipe gun shown below in the image is a country-made firearm. These kinds of firearms are easy to manufacture and to use the cartridge is inserted in the barrel where the trigger is kept cocked. The firing mechanism of the firearm is similar to others. When the trigger is pulled the firing pin strikes at the base of the cartridge resulting in the ejection of a projectile.
Desi Katta varies in a lot of characteristics where barrel length, size, the thickness of barrel, the diameter of the muzzle, pulling trigger, etc. is different. These variations in country-made firearms, affect their rage of fire and wounding power.
Features of 0.315/0.303 in. pistols
- The barrel is made up of automobile axle with its length varying from 8 cm to 24 cm.
- Barrels made using pipes, axles, etc. are unsafe and unreliable as the user is at risk of mild to serious injury.
- No rifling process is done in the barrel which leaves no individual marks on the projectile and is accurate only at shorter distances.
- Variance in the muzzle diameter:- The amount of soot, and burnt or unburnt particles of powder leaving the firearm.
Features of 0.38/0.32 in. revolver
- The barrel of the revolver is made with steel pipes, cheap steel tubes, etc. which are not safe and the user may be at risk of injury.
- Crude rifling:- Unique individual characteristics are imparted onto the bullet which will aid greatly in ballistic confirmation with the suspected firearm.
- Cylinder gap variable is present between chamber and barrel which will lead in loss of muzzle velocity and deposition of primer residue.
Features of 12 Bore single-shot pistols
- Barrels are usually made by water pipes which are unsafe to use and the user may be at risk of injury.
- Variance in the length of barrel:- The amount of soot, and burnt or unburnt particles of powder leaving the firearm.
- Variance in the muzzle diameter and absence of choking:- The amount of soot and burnt or unburnt particles exiting the muzzle varies. The shotgun pellet spreading pattern will vary considerably.
Wound Ballistics in Country-made firearms
The wound caused by the firearms depends upon the range of fire i.e., the distance between the muzzle end and the body. The wounds can be classified as:-
- Contact wound
- Near Contact wound
- Immediate range
- Distant range
Contact wound is further divided into two i.e., Hard contact and loose contact.
In ‘Hard contact’ wounds, the muzzle end of a firearm is firmly pressed against the body. The features of hard contact wound include abrasion ring, muzzle imprints and blackened edges which cannot be rubbed by scrubbing.
In ‘loose contact’ wound the contact between the body and firearm is so loose that when the shot is fired, there is a momentary loss of contact with the body. The features of loose contact wound are the abrasion ring surrounded by a zone of powder soot which can be washed by scrubbing.
Near contact Wound
In this wound, the firearm is neither touching the body neither too far so that when the shot is fired, partially burnt/unburnt particles can spread to produce blackening, tattooing and singeing near the wound.
The muzzle of the weapon is held suitably far from the body so that the soot is not deposited on the body, yet unburnt/burnt particles spread to form tattooing near the wound. However, in cases of Desi Katta, one should not jump to the conclusion in determining the distance as they are made illegally without proper manufacturing rather it should be done in a ballistic laboratory by test-firing the bullet.
In these wounds, the firearm is far away from the body and only the bullet is able to strike the body. An important aspect of country-made firearms is that the barrel is greased, therefore, the entry wound is surrounded by bullet wipes which can be confused for soot powder.
This point needs to be looked whenever there is a chance or suspicion of usage of country-made firearms.
Forensic Examination of Country-made firearms
Examination of country-made firearms helps in revealing a lot about the current design and action mechanisms of the firearms. As time progresses and the manufacturers educate themselves about the design and mechanism, the adopt new techniques in the firearms to develop their quality and much reliable for users.
Even if the local manufacturer is an expert in designing a firearm which is fit to use, the quality would be inferior to factory-made firearms.
Photography and documentation of country-made firearms(desi Katta) will help to build a database for the action mechanisms of the firearms for the record and references in the future. Further, the database will help firearm experts, police officers, judicial officers, law enforcement agencies all around the world.
Eradication of Country-made firearms
In order to remove Desi Katta from the country, following actions needed to be taken are:
- Possible sources of manufacturing illicit firearms and trafficking route are to be identified through intelligence feedback.
- Stringent exemplary punishment to the king-pin of such illicit trade and person in possession/use.
- Regular check/frisking at suspicious places by police.
- Stricter gun control law.
- Providing alternative trade by way of financial assistance to the illicit gun manufacturer.
Country-made firearms are crudely manufactured illegally and using non-standard techniques designed to fire standard cartridges of two or more calibres. Finishing of these cartridges is so poor that two bullets or cartridges can be detected very easily based on the characteristic marks present on them.
Country-made firearms(desi Katta) are, therefore, not much effective at distant range neither safe due to the cheap materials used in the manufacturing of these materials. The design of such firearms is unique and also reveals the skill of the person responsible for manufacturing the firearm.