Kneecapping is a form of malicious wounding, often as criminal punishment or torture, in which the victim is injured in the knee. The injury is typically inflicted by a low-velocity gunshot to the knee pit with a handgun. The term is considered a misnomer by medical professionals because only a very small minority of victims suffer damage to the kneecap. A review of eighty kneecapping victims found that only two had a fractured kneecap. The name limb punishment shooting is considered more accurate, especially because some victims have their elbows and ankles shot as well.
During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, paramilitaries considered themselves to be law enforcers in their own areas. They used limb punishment shootings to punish petty criminals and other individuals whose behaviour they deemed to be unacceptable. If the crime was considered to be grave, the victim was also shot in the ankles and elbows, leaving them with six gunshot wounds. Approximately 2,500 people were victims of limb punishment shootings through the duration of the conflict. Those who were attacked carried a social stigma with them.
The Red Brigades, an Italian militant organization, employed limb punishment shootings to warn their opponents. They used the method to punish at least 75 people up to December 1978. More recently limb punishment shootings have been employed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip to silence their Palestinian critics.
The severity of the injury can vary from simple soft tissue damage to a knee joint fracture with neurovascular damage. The latter requires several weeks in hospital and intensive outpatient physiotherapy in order for recovery. If the damage is too great amputation might be necessary, but this rarely occurs. In Northern Ireland thirteen individuals had their legs amputated as a consequence of limb punishment shootings over the duration of the Troubles. In the long term it is estimated that one out of five victims will walk with a limp for the rest of their lives.
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