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Chemistry LibreTexts

Gunshot Residue

Analysis of Handwashings for Gunshot Residue


To identify gunshot residue, if any, by the presence of lead on the hands.



Have someone fire a handgun at a firing range. Immediately swab each hand with a cotton swab wetted with 0.8 M nitric acid. Swab the thumb web, palm, and back of the hand. Place each swab in a separate plastic bag and seal. Repeat the process for someone who only handled the gun after it was fired.

Alternatively, prepare simulated hand-swabbings by adding lead nitrate solution to cotton swabs wetted with 0.8 M nitric acid. The added lead standard should contain 50 - 100 µg of lead (fired a gun) or 25-50 µg of lead (handled a gun).


1000 ppm lead solution (as lead nitrate) in 1% (v/v) nitric acid; nitric acid; ammonium dihydrogen phosphate (ultrapure; matrix modifier)

Standard Reference Material

500 ppb lead solution (as lead nitrate) in 1% (v/v) nitric acid


Electrothermal atomic absorption spectrophotometry

Special equipment

Atomic absorption spectrophotometer with graphite furnace atomizer


For instructor (detailed); For student (brief)

Typical results

Atomic absorption calibration curve for lead

Alternate Method

Scanning electron microscopy / X-ray fluorescence (SEM-EDX)


(planned for next edition)