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. 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 behavior 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 (colloquially known as a six pack). Approximately 2,500 people were victims of these 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 these punishment shootings to warn their opponents. They used the method to punish at least 75 people up to December 1978. More recently this kind of punishment shooting has been employed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip to silence their political opponents.
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.
- Barr & Mollan 1989, pp. 740–741.
- Crawford, Duncan (28 January 2010). "Northern Ireland kneecapping victim 'shot four times'". BBC Newbeat. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
- Williams 1997, pp. 78–80.
- Orsini 2011, pp. 13, 121.
- Amnesty International UK 2009.
- Amnesty International Ireland 2009, p. 3.
- Williams 1997, p. 79.
- Graham & Parke 2004, p. 229.
- Conroy 1980.
- "Gaza: Hamas kneecappings, punishment beatings and killings of 'collaborators' revealed in new Amnesty report". Amnesty International UK. 10 February 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2014.
- "Hamas' deadly campaign in the shadow of the war in Gaza". Amnesty International Ireland. February 2009. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
- Barr, R. J.; Mollan, R. A. B. (1989). "The orthopaedic consequences of civil disturbance in Northern Ireland" (PDF). The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 71 (5): 739–744.
- Conroy, John. "Kneecapping". Alice Patterson Foundation. Retrieved 8 January 2014.
- Graham, L. E.; Parke, R. C. (2004). "The Northern Ireland Troubles and limb loss: a retrospective study". Prosthetics and Orthotics International. 28 (3): 225–229.
- Orsini, Alessandro (2011). Anatomy of the Red Brigades: The Religious Mind-set of Modern Terrorists. Translated from Italian by Sarah J. Nodes. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-6139-2.
- Williams, John (1997). "Casualties of Violence in Northern Ireland". International Journal of Trauma Nursing. 3 (3): 78–82. doi:10.1016/s1075-4210(97)90033-x.