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CT scans like this show the internal workings of a firearm—and can reconstruct shootings, without having to deconstruct the weapon. (Image: Courtesy of Ed Hueske)

The gunman who shot from a Las Vegas hotel down at a crowd of thousands for more than 15 minutes, killing 59 and wounding 500 more, was likely using automatic weapons Sunday night.

But even though alleged shooter Stephen Paddock is dead by his own hand, questions remain about the weapons he used: 23 firearms found in his Mandalay Bay hotel room, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition. The dealers that sold him the guns said Paddock passed all background checks, the firearms were all legally sold and none were capable of automatic fire at point of sale.

Forensic analysis of the dozens of weapons at the crime scene and in the attacker’s home could benefit from the use of a “revolutionary” new analysis which could tell the inside story of Paddock’s guns: computed tomography, or CT scanning.

The use of X-rays can tell a firearms examiner almost anything about the internal working of any firearm, without having to open the gun up and potentially compromise the weapons evidence, said Ed Hueske, a Texas-based firearms expert and author of the textbook Practical Analysis and Reconstruction of Shooting Incidents from CRC Press.

Ed Hueske, author of "Practical Analysis and Reconstruction of Shooting Incidents," says CT scans of firearms could revolutionize the field of firearms analysis. (Photo: Courtesy of Ed Hueske)

“Let’s go with the Las Vegas case. There’s a claim that the guns were converted to fire full auto,” said Hueske. “Those guns could easily be examined with CT scanning—and you don’t have to take them apart, and you could determine in all probability whether they’ve been modified for full automatic fire.”

Hueske and a team of investigators used CT scanning to prove the circumstances of a police-involved shooting this year.

A police officer had faced criminal charges of reckless conduct for a shooting in which he said that he had half-pumped a Remington 870 shotgun, and the gun went off without the pull of a trigger.

(Forensic Magazine is withholding the specifics of the trial, the accused and the circumstances involved in the shooting.)

However, Hueske and the local police agency determined that they could identify whether the weapon was flawed through the advanced imaging of its internal workings—without having to open it up and potentially damage it, or change the arrangement of the parts.

The CT scanning of the 12-gauge shotgun was conducted by North Star Imaging, Inc. of Minnesota. Hueske as well as engineers from the Remington company analyzed the images, conducted tests, and found that, definitively, the shotgun would only be able to fire when the slide was forward, and the trigger was pulled.

The analysis and courtroom testimony as to the condition and workings of the gun resulted in the officer conceding, on the witness stand, that he may have pulled the trigger in the confrontation. (A hung jury eventually resulted in a mistrial concerning other circumstances of the encounter, which both the shooting officer and wounded civilian survived.)

Otherwise, firearm analysis could involve massive amounts of demonstration to a jury. Hueske recalls a gunsmith using a body camera and demonstrating for 90 minutes the basic operation of a subject gun, he said.

“It’s going to revolutionize firearm examination, as far as I’m concerned,” said Hueske. “The proof is in the pudding.”

A CT scan of a handgun. CT scans like this show the internal workings of a firearm—and can reconstruct shootings, without having to deconstruct the weapon. (Image: Courtesy of Ed Hueske)

The CT analysis costs $1,500 to complete, plus additional costs including travel and living expenses on-site, to ensure chain-of-custody.

“Obviously, this may be a ‘deal breaker’ for some cases, but the impact of this ‘high-tech’ evidence is substantial,” Hueske added.

In the meantime, the Las Vegas investigation continues. In addition to the 23 firearms in the Mandalay Bay hotel suite, another 19 were found back at Paddock’s Nevada home. Fully automatic weapons manufactured before 1986 can be legally owned, but later models of “machine guns” have to be modified to achieve accelerated rates of fire. 

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