Why do mafia hit men drop their guns at the scene of a crime?

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June 4 2007 6:46 PM

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

Why do mafia hit men drop their guns at the scene of a crime?

On Sunday's episode of The Sopranos, the Italians shoot a man they have mistaken for New York boss Phil Leotardo. Later, Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri is killed at the model-train store. Both times, the killers drop their guns at the scene of the crime. As Clemenza says in The Godfather, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." How come mafia hit men always drop the guns?

They don't want to be caught with the weapon while fleeing the scene. If they've taken precautions to keep the gun from being traced back to them, it won't be much help to the police. In that case, it's better to leave it for the cops.

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The decision is a calculation of probability rather than a question of style. Mobsters aren't the only ones who prefer the cannoli to the Smith & Wesson; it's a move that many professional killers employ when they can, along with ditching the gloves and shirt they wore (which may contain gunshot residue). Only a criminal who is completely confident that his gun can't be traced would abandon the weapon. In this case, his chances of being connected with the weapon are so low that he's more worried about running into law enforcement during the getaway. (Why not toss the gun in the harbor, like they do on The Wire? It's not foolproof disposal. Divers can retrieve weapons, like in this Brooklyn case that led to a conviction of second-degree murder.)

A killer who drops his gun better be sure it's free of incriminating clues like fingerprints and DNA. As countless crime dramas have taught us, forensics experts can dust a weapon for prints and match them against those from a criminal database or a particular suspect. The police can also sometimes collect DNA from sweat or skin cells left on the gun.

The serial number poses another problem; it can trace the gun's life story, from when and where it was manufactured to who bought the weapon from which dealer. A killer might try to destroy the etched code by drilling or sanding it away. (In some cases, the police can recover the number by applying chemical reagents to the metal surface.) If the gun is stolen, the serial number could lead cops down the wrong path, but a disciplined criminal would probably remove it just to be safe.

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Explainer thanks Michael Levine of Michael Levine Consulting.

Michelle Tsai is a Beijing-based writer working on a book about Chinatowns on six continents. She blogs at ChinatownStories.com.

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